Sepp Blatter, president of FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, has been in the news lately over its controversial decisions to select Russia as the 2018 World Cup host and Qatar as the host for the 2022 World Cup. The World Cup is the world’s most popular sporting event and FIFA is one of the most maligned and controversial organizations in the world. So, we decided to ask a simple question: What is FIFA and what does it actually do?
First, the basics. The International Federation of Association Football (French version: Fédération Internationale de Football Association), or FIFA, is the international governing body of association football, futsal and beach football. Its headquarters are located in Zurich, Switzerland, and its current president is Sepp Blatter, who is up for re-election. FIFA is responsible for the organization and governance of football’s major international tournaments, most notably the FIFA World Cup, organized since 1930. FIFA has 208 member associations, three more than the International Olympic Committee and five fewer than the International Association of Athletic Associations. Nineteen World Cups have been played. The next one — and least controversial — will be staged in Brazil in 2014.
FIFA’s supreme body is the FIFA Congress, an assembly made up of representatives from each affiliated member association. The Congress assembles once every year and, additionally, extraordinary sessions have been held once a year since 1998. Only the Congress can pass changes to FIFA’s statutes. Congress elects the President of FIFA, its General Secretary and the other members of FIFA’s Executive Committee. The President and General Secretary are the main officeholders of FIFA, and are in charge of its daily administration. FIFA’s Executive Committee, chaired by the President, is the main decision-making body.
Got all of that? It’s a wonder respectable and informed people have long complained about the utter complexity of this monopolistic entity. And many insiders have complained of much worse.
In May 2006, British investigative reporter Andrew Jennings’ book “Foul! The Secret World of FIFA: Bribes, Vote-Rigging and Ticket Scandals” caused controversy within the soccer world by detailing an alleged international cash-for-contracts scandal following the collapse of FIFA’s marketing partner ISL. The book revealed how some soccer officials have been urged to secretly repay the sweeteners they received. The book also alleged that vote-rigging occurred in the fight for Blatter’s continued control of FIFA.
Shortly after the release of Foul! a BBC television exposé by Jennings and BBC producer Roger Corke produced a special news documentary, screened on June 11, 2006, that alleged that Blatter was being investigated by Swiss police over his role in a secret deal to repay more than $2 million worth of bribes pocketed by soccer officials.
All testimonies offered in the BBC expose were provided through a disguised voice, appearance, or both, save one: Mel Brennan, formerly a lecturer at Towson University in the United States (Head of Special Projects for CONCACAF, 2001-2003, a liaison to the e-FIFA project and a 2002 FIFA World Cup delegate). He became the first high-level football insider to go public with substantial allegations of greed, corruption, nonfeasance and malfeasance by CONCACAF and FIFA leadership.
During the BBC exposé, Brennan and Jennings, and others, exposed allegedly inappropriate allocations of money at CONCACAF. They attempted to draw connections between ostensible CONCACAF criminality and similar behaviors at FIFA. Since then, and in the light of fresh allegations of bribery and corruption involving the 2018 and 2022 World Cup site selections, Jennings and Brennan remain highly critical of FIFA. Brennan has called directly for an alternative to FIFA.
But it doesn’t end there. In a further BBC One documentary on Nov. 29, 2010, Jennings, the journalist, alleged that three senior FIFA officials — Nicolas Leoz, Issa Hayatou and Ricardo Teixeira — had been paid huge bribes by FIFA’s marketing partner ISL between 1989 and 1999, which FIFA had failed to investigate. He claimed they appeared on a list of 175 bribes paid by ISL, totaling about $100 million. FIFA did bend to the pressure and prevented those three officials from voting on the 2018 and 2022 site selections.
The rest is well known to the world soccer community. While those three senior FIFA officials may have lost out on tens of millions of dollars, the rest of the executive committee allegedly fattened their Swiss bank accounts. These continuing allegations makes you wonder if FIFA’s presence is really “for the good of the game.”