FIFA: The Puppeteer of Nations


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This occasion was supposed to be a celebration. Instead, tear gas and percussion grenades flew through the air at a pack of protestors—the riot police showed up in full force. Chants of corruption, stealing and injustice filled the airwaves. When the dust finally settled, media outlets reported at least one arrest and five injuries. What was the occasion? The World Cup opening ceremonies in Rio de Janiero, Brazil (Watts 2014).

That’s odd. According to Brazil’s tourism page, soccer (or, as they call it, “football”) is the nation’s preferred sporting activity (www.brazil.org.za 2014). The sport arrived in Brazil in 1894 when Charles Miller, the son of an expatriate Scottish railway engineer, brought two soccer balls to São Paolo. The rest is, as they say, history. Brazilians embraced the new sport and immortalized Miller in the form of statues and street names. Soccer soon turned into an art form; they called it “o jogo bonito,” meaning “the beautiful game.” An anthropologist studying Brazil thought Brazilians played soccer as “if it was a dance.” In a country where poverty is widespread, soccer became the great equalizer (Pillitz & Reid 2014).

If Brazil has such a profound love for soccer, why would they protest the biggest soccer spectacle in the world? The short answer is because the organization that runs the event is Fédération Internationale de Football Association, better known simply as “FIFA.” As the governing body of world soccer, FIFA does not exactly have a pristine track record. Repeated allegations of corruption and criminal activity within the organization have earned FIFA alternative names such as “a dark stain on the soul of humanity” and “a misery cartel” (Oliver & Zaltzman 2014) along with questions like, “Is FIFA Rotten to the Core?” (Lin 2013). In this post, I will explore the origins of FIFA, its current operations and mission in order to evaluate its presence in Brazil from the ethical framework of deontology. My conclusion supports the view that FIFA is an organization marred with corruption and without a proper moral compass.

Before controversy stained the legacy of FIFA, it was known as a major catalyst for the popularity of international sport and specifically soccer. In 1904, FIFA was founded by seven soccer-playing European nations: Belgium, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. Notably missing from this bunch is England. At the time of the Federation’s formation, the English Football Association (FA) announced, “The Council of the Football Association cannot see the advantages of such a Federation, but on all such matters upon which joint action was desirable they would be prepared to confer.” The British were too proud of their own soccer traditions, even though they were offered a leading role in FIFA. Perhaps due to British snobbery, the 1904 founding proved largely ineffective. FIFA had plans of an international tournament that never materialized (Tomlinson 2014).

Despite early hardships, FIFA pressed onwards. Throughout its early history, FIFA focused mainly on garnering the support of nascent and existing soccer associations around the world. Europe was home to many of the well-established organizations, whereas Central and South America were starting to develop their own. By 1930, FIFA had convinced 46 associations to become a part of its movement. In the same year, FIFA announced its first competition: the World Cup (Tomlinson 2014).

uruguay

Far from the colossal event that it is today, the inaugural World Cup in Uruguay (advertisement pictured above) included merely 13 teams compared to the present 64 teams and hosted only 600,000 fans compared to the nearly 3.2 million fans that came to see the games in South Africa in 2010. The event provided the practically bankrupt FIFA with much-needed income and demonstrated that the world had a distinct appetite for soccer. Incumbent FIFA president, Jules Rimet of France, recognized FIFA’s potential and devoted himself to strengthening its global presence. Everyone wanted a seat at FIFA’s table—now even the FA was paying attention (Tomlinson 2014). Rimet successfully navigated this important period in FIFA’s history, positioning the Federation for rapid global growth and earning him the designation as FIFA’s first Honorary President (FIFA 2014).

Now, over a century after its founding, FIFA is a massive international non-profit organization. According to its 2013 financial report, FIFA generated $1.38 billion in revenue in 2013 and reported $1.43 billion in financial reserves. Its Zurich-based employees bring home an average of $173,677. FIFA’s mission is three fold: “developing football everywhere and for all,” “organizing inspiring tournaments” and “caring about society and the environment” (FIFA 2014). With such excessive financial compensation and reserves, one might question if more money could be allocated to these seemingly noble causes. After looking at FIFA’s organizational structure and operational procedures, the picture becomes clearer. FIFA has morphed into an organization conducive to dysfunction and corruption (Tomlinson 2014).

The Federation consists of an Executive Committee of 24 members, a much larger Congress with representatives from regional soccer confederations, and numerous committees for different aspects of FIFA operations like refereeing or finance. The first problem with this structure is the power of the Executive Committee. It is in charge of all of the most crucial decisions like naming the host country for the next World Cup and electing a new president. The incumbent president, Sepp Blatter, has an incredible amount of power among the Committee, as his vote is a tiebreaker during divisive issues. Such a structure gives rise to alliances and bribery—within the past five years, FIFA has publically admitted to more than five cases of alleged bribery or corruption, with many more possibly kept under the radar. Furthermore, FIFA’s standing committees that support the Executive Committee are too numerous and allow individuals to serve on multiple different committees. David Chung of Malaysia sits on nine different committees, giving him extraordinary influence. 387 individuals share 511 committee positions and a core group of powerful individuals dominate the more important committees like the Executive Committee and Emergency Committee (a committee consisting of six members, including Blatter, that gets to decide on any issue they deem necessary) (Tomlinson 2014).

football4

Sure, FIFA seems to be conducive to some organizational failures, but it is still bringing an amazing event to Brazil and potentially some economic prosperity, right? Official documents from the Brazilian government would agree and paint a picture of optimism. They claim that the World Cup will bring 200,000 jobs, $6.8 billion in much-needed infrastructure development and new stadiums that will revive Brazil’s soccer culture. However, they failed to mention a few important facts. To begin, at least 66,000 of the expected new 200,000 jobs are only temporary for the World Cup (SECOM 2014). Furthermore, the total cost of the World Cup in Brazil is estimated at $13.3 billion (Zimbalist 2014), while revenue only reached $4.4 billion, most of which goes to FIFA (Willis 2014). Even if Brazil got to keep all of the revenue, the country would be losing financially. Finally, the construction of the stadium in Rio de Janiero will displace around 1.5 million Brazilians by 2014 (Zimbalist 2011). To make matters worse, stadiums built in more remote areas like the Amazonian city of Manaus will go largely unused after the tournament. The stadium there has capacity for 40,000 spectators, but the division four team that will call it home once the tournament ends only draws about 1,500 people per game. Unless a corporate sponsor steps up, the team will have a difficult time paying the $250,000 maintenance bill every month (O’Reilly 2014). The riots now seem justified. In a country where income disparity is the 17th highest in the world out of 140 ranked countries, spending money on preparations for the World Cup seems of little importance (Macguire & Fernandes 2014).

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Judging by the numbers, FIFA should not have held the World Cup in Brazil. Yet, in order to conduct a thorough analysis of FIFA’s presence in Brazil, I want to employ an ethical framework. Deontology seems to fit well in this case. Many different flavors of deontology exist, but the common ring among all of the interpretations is, “Justice be done though the heavens fall” (Gaus 2001). What this means is that we are bestowed with certain duties that we must fulfill, even if the consequence of fulfilling them is detrimental. Our actions must reflect the relative duties of our lives. Deontology, however, does not dictate that we must maximize welfare for everyone or that we must make “good” decisions. We must simply be the best we can be given our role in society. In short, we need to make the “right” decision, but not always the “good” decision (Gaus 2001).

“We [FIFA] believe that we have a duty to society that goes beyond football: to improve the lives of young people and their surrounding communities, to reduce the negative impact of our activities and to make the most we can of the positives” (FIFA 2014). This quote is directly from FIFA’s website. FIFA has kindly articulated their duty for us, which makes evaluating their actions in Brazil from a deontological standpoint much easier. Then, if FIFA were making the right decisions and following their duty to enrich the communities that they interact with, shouldn’t it make an effort to evaluate its impact in Brazil before deciding to bring the World Cup to the nation? FIFA apparently does an economic analysis of the host nations to determine their capability of holding the grand event. The Federation wants to make sure that the infrastructure is sufficient and that the same continent that held the previous World Cup is not holding it again (FIFA Ethics Committee 2014). However, in all of my research, I did not find a single piece of evidence that FIFA evaluates the potential political or cultural impacts of the World Cup. FIFA’s primary concerns are evidently, and solely, financial.

Therefore, I argue that FIFA failed their duty in Brazil. Through poor organizational structure and flawed processes, FIFA neglected to live up to the standards that it set for itself. The Federation is clearly more concerned with furthering their own interests rather than strengthening communities through soccer. FIFA says on its website that its third pillar, which relates to reducing the negative impacts of its presence, is “crucial.” My research has proven otherwise. Yet, FIFA is allowed to impose its will—it is a puppeteer of nations. The only saving grace for FIFA is the beautiful sport that it stands for: soccer.

If you watched the World Cup at all, please do not feel guilty. Yes, you indirectly supported the horrible, unethical and heartless organization that sponsors it, but you cannot help it. Please refer to the below John Oliver video for some comedic relief.

References

FIFA. (2014). What we stand for. Retrieved 11/24, 2014, from http://www.fifa.com/aboutfifa/organisation/mission.html

Gaus, G. F. (2001). What is dentology? part one: Orthodox views. The Journal of Value Inquiry, 35(1), 27-42.

Investigatory Chamber of the FIFA Ethics Committee. (2014). Report on the inquiry into the 2018/2022 FIFA world cup bidding process (InvestigativeFIFA.

Lin, M. (2013, ). Caricatures of critique: Is FIFA rotten to the core? Message posted to http://sites.duke.edu/wcwp/world-cup-2014/fifa-institutional-politics/caricatures-of-critique-is-fifa-rotten-to-the-core/

Macguire, E., & Fernandes, S. (2014, Who are the real winners and losers of the 2014 world cup? Cnn,

Oliver, J., & Zaltzman, A. (2014, ). Chills, thrills and blatter aches. Message posted to https://soundcloud.com/the-bugle/bugle-279-chills-thrills-and-blatter-aches

O’Reilly, A. (2014, Brazil loses big at world cup–and not just on the field. Fox News Latino,

Pillitz, C., & Reid, M. (2014, Football in brazil. Intelligent Life Magazine, the Economist Newspaper,

Secretariat for Social Communication (SECOM) of the Office of the Presidency of Brazil. (2014). What you need to know about the 2014 FIFA world cup brazil (Economic Evaluation. Brazil:

Tomlinson, A. (2014). FIFA (fédération internationale de football association) : The men, the myths and the money Taylor and Francis.

Willis, J. (2014, FIFA generated $2 billion profit from 2014 world cup in brazil, says report. World Soccer Talk,

http://www.brazil.org.za. (2014). Brazil sports. Retrieved 11/14, 2014, from http://www.brazil.org.za/brazil-sports.html#.VHamBFXF_Ix

Zimbalist, A. (2011). Can brazil build the massive infrastructure it needs to host the olympics and the world cup? Americas Quarterly

Photo Credit

Picture 1: Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP/Getty Images

Picture 2: “Uruguay 1930 World Cup” by Guillermo Laborde (1886-1940) Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Picture 3: Christopher Pillitz, Intelligent Life Magazine

Picture 4: Paulo Ito

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