It’s no coincidence of course that Netflix released a documentary called “FIFA Uncovered” just a week before the men’s World Cup got underway in, of all places, Qatar. It’s a good reminder — in case anyone forgot — that FIFA has been rife with corruption in the form of kickbacks and bribes, etc., etc., for decades, operating behind closed doors with no accountability. Qatar was at the tipping point.
The U.S. Department of Justice formally announced last year that Russia and Qatar bribed FIFA officials to win their bids for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids, (there have also been allegations that South Africa won the bid with a $10 million bribe). Millions of dollars were slipped to FIFA officials to secure the bid in Qatar.
Even FIFA officials knew that as soon as Qatar was selected as host that it would bring trouble, and in fact, it was the catalyst that brought FIFA to its knees and resulted in the arrest of 14 current and former FIFA officials in 2015. (Meanwhile, The New York Times reported that Russian officials told FIFA officials who were investigating the bid that they could not provide the computers used during the process because they had all been destroyed.)
Shortly after the arrests, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch told reporters, “(FIFA officials) … held important responsibilities at every level, from building soccer fields for children in developing countries to organizing the World Cup … instead, they corrupted the business of worldwide soccer to serve their own interests and enrich themselves.”
Bribery is about the only explanation for the selection of Doha, Qatar, as World Cup host. It doesn’t have the population, the soccer tradition, the following, the weather conditions, location or infrastructure to host such an event. It’s a country about twice the size of Delaware with an average summer temperature of 109 degrees and widely regarded as a high-security risk.
Its economy relies heavily on the hiring of desperately poor foreign workers and Qatar has long been accused of exploiting and abusing them — The Guardian reported last year that almost 7,000 of them had died the previous decade working in brutal conditions for minimal pay. The country is also decidedly unwoke — homosexuality is a crime punishable by prison sentences. Qatar also had never qualified a team for the World Cup until this year and then only because the host country is awarded an automatic berth (the team lost its opener).
In short, there was every reason not to award the bid to Qatar, but extraordinary lengths have been taken to make it happen, including the move of the tournament from its usual summer schedule to November/December because of the heat. (Oil) money talks. Qatar spent a whopping $220 billion to prepare for the World Cup, making it by far the most expensive Cup (by comparison, Russia is second at $14 billion for the 2018 Cup preparations).
The world has gone to Qatar kicking and screaming, not only about the problematic host site but also the way in which it was selected (there continue to be protests, especially in Europe, about Qatar as the host). That is probably what prompted FIFA president Gianni Infantino’s bizarre, defiant speech on the eve of the World Cup. Responding to Western nations for offering “moral lessons,” he said, “Today I feel Qatari. Today I feel Arab. Today I feel African. Today I feel gay. Today I feel disabled. Today I feel a migrant worker.”
You’ll feel angry by the end of the documentary. If you’re naive, you might let yourself dream that things are better now that some of the old guard has been kicked to the curb, starting with FIFA’s arrogant president, Sepp Blatter, and his hand-picked successor, Michel Platini (suspended from FIFA for eight years). But then you learn that Infantino stated he was loyal to Platini and would step aside if Platini could return to FIFA. He also received the Order of Friendship medal from President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia a year after the Cup was held in Russia.
Let’s see, scandal in sport … where have we heard that before? The back-room maneuvering of FIFA’s fat cats is disturbing enough in and of itself, but it’s become the norm. There was the systemic drug program perpetrated by the Russian government, the corruption in the International Olympic Committee, the Salt Lake bid scandal that resulted from the IOC’s back-room demands, Lance Armstrong, Floyd Landis and the drug culture of cycling, the drug scandals in track and field, the Major League Baseball steroid era, the NFL’s “Spygate,” the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scandal, the age-limit scandal in Chinese gymnastics, match fixing in Europe (football), Pakistan (cricket) and Turkey (football).
Is there anyone who doesn’t cheat?
If that isn’t disturbing enough, go beyond sports to the business world and the scandals of FTX, Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos, Enron, Nikola, the 2008 mortgage crash, Bernie Madoff and Michael Milken.
As you contemplate the findings of “FIFA Uncovered” and expand to the sports and business worlds, it’s natural to take it to its logical conclusion — that in these realms, there’s cheating everywhere. We would be naive not to think there is “House of Cards”-like corruption in government, for instance. Maybe you think this is obvious, or maybe you’re like most and believe that most people are honest.
Malcolm Gladwell, the famed economist/author, wrote that we tend to assume people are being honest with us; studies show that we overwhelmingly believe people, even strangers. It accounts for why British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was taken in by Adolf Hitler and believed Hitler was not a threat to Europe. It accounts for why so many otherwise intelligent investors were so taken in by Holmes and invested hundreds of millions of dollars in Theranos without doing their due diligence; they believed her. Gladwell cites the work of Tim Levine, an expert on deception, who calls it our “default to truth.”
FIFA’s minions continued to support their leaders even when presented with overwhelming evidence. They even reelected Blatter to another term in 2015 (he ultimately resigned).
It took decades to realize the deception of FIFA, and people will default to the belief that all is well once again, just as they have with the IOC. But there’s no reason to believe that anything has really changed.