Stories From the Vault

FIFA Isn’t Soccer

By Posted in - History & Rants on May 30th, 2015 0 Comments

FIFA is a bureaucracy with direct access to funding and a largely compliant array of subsidiary bureaucracies running regional associations like CONCACAF and UEFA that in turn have their own subsidiaries in the national associations. Outside of governments there are very few large bureaucracies like FIFA that have so much control and little de facto oversight. Unless there is consistent outside analysis & review by truly independent & non-bureaucratized bodies, bureaucracies measure themselves solely by their own standards. Over time, these standards tend towards serving the bureaucracy itself – rather than serving the supposed mission of the organization.

“Serving the bureaucracy” begins at the top, as the salaries, benefits, expenses and perks of senior personnel grow. Accruing power for FIFA means making friends in the regional organizations, sometimes playing kingmaker and earning a friend for life. Functionaries in national associations dream of being noticed by regional groups or FIFA because once you are at that trough, there have traditionally been few limits. Being considered a person who may have influence within FIFA has been a very rewarding image but not as rewarding as being one of the folks who votes on where the World Cup will be held.
Jack Warner has been involved with the bureaucratic side of soccer for decades, and his corruption is legendary. He has profited personally (in addition to making sure family and friends make money as well), but his master stroke was using his leverage to get a new national soccer centre for Trinidad and Tobago. Chuck Blazer, apparently the FBI’s mole in FIFA after he was threatened with arrest, is another individual who profited from his contacts but also made sure to pursue actions that benefited his own association in the United States.
The accusations appear outrageous only to those unfamiliar with FIFA, but to be honest I expect there is much more to come. There are a lot of scared bureaucrats out there who have carried briefcases between senior officials and wonder what was inside. People will start talking and, when they do, more people will talk and things will only get uglier. This could be Blatter’s Watergate.
I have just been informed by Ian that Sepp Blatter has been re-elected President of FIFA, not a shock but still outrageous. There appears to be a disconnect between the various associations and the wave of outrage in the footballing world, aside from a small pocket in Russia and Qatar that sees conspiracies everywhere and thinks FIFA is perfect. I told Ian that I am mildly pleased Blatter is back because that this will be his downfall. He needs to stay in to control the fallout, he likely knows his defense won’t stand scrutiny if a reform minded successor takes his place. Ultimately he won’t be able to control the leaks and eventually something somewhere will be the smoking gun…is there a FIFA taping system besides Chuck Blazer?
Internally FIFA officials must be in a tizzy. Demanding IT delete everything, put in new drives and dump the old ones into the lake along with the backups. If Chuck Blazer could be flipped then anyone could be flipped: what FIFA executive can stand the thought of jail time? Apparently Jack Warner couldn’t, as he was taken from prison in an ambulance yesterday, but to home rather than hospital. If there is an official close to Blatter who has been turned, things could get even more interesting as the rats leave the sinking ship.
Then what? FIFA is going to continue and the bidding process will be corrupt no matter what rules are made – because the structure in place is flawed. Expecting FIFA to operate with the interests of the sport as their primary focus is naive because the organization sees itself as the sport, and so do many casual observers. FIFA isn’t soccer, it is a corrupt governing body with monopoly power and unless there is a greater will amongst the people with the power to force change the corruption will continue.
Is there a model that could work and, if not eliminate corruption, at least reduce the opportunity for it? Doubtful at this point, because, as many governments have discovered to their chagrin, bureaucracies are resilient especially when they have access to cash and assets in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The only organizations that have some leverage over FIFA are the sponsors of the game, the corporations who pour their millions into “exclusive” deals, and regional associations. The problem is that these groups know exactly how FIFA does things and did not care as along as the shenanigans remained largely hidden from public scrutiny. Now they need action.
Sepp Blatter must resign. His reelection isn’t a good sign for FIFA as they circle the wagons when the main threats are VISA, Coke and other sponsors who are already inside and demanding change. Unless their strategy is to be angry until the media attention dies down the only action that will give sponsors the chance to be “the good guys” is for Blatter to resign and to do so “for the good of the game.” That would require a complete change of mindset for Blatter – after all, he is inherently good for the sport as revenues and popularity have increased under his watch: things for which he is apparently happy to claim responsibility. The alleged criminality at FIFA that occurred under his watch is something over which he had no control but we all know success is the child of the boss while failure is the fault of the cleaners.
Sponsors aside the regional and national associations could play a role in restructuring FIFA but they are run by people who like the structure already and the only change they wish to see is who is in charge. Soccer administration is a money making venture with sponsorships and friendly matches and regional tournaments. The regional associations don’t want to be investigated themselves but they do want to have more say over how FIFA is run so they want as little investigation as possible that could lead people down to the regions or even national associations.
FIFA doesn’t care about public perception because they have a monopoly and people aren’t going to boycott their primary product. The sponsors and regional associates care more about FIFA corruption because they will either be linked with it directly or suspected of a role in it themselves. The non-FIFA parties need an immediate sign from FIFA that something will change that will allow the day to day workings of the bureaucracy to go on unhindered and the sponsors and members to say “look things are changing.” Realistically, the only choice for FIFA and Blatter is for Blatter to resign and the only people to whom he will listen control some of the purse strings.

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