The news of more factual evidence to corroborate the long held belief that Qatar bought the 2022 World Cup was met with a jaded sense of joy from all corners of the globe. In one respect, here represents the best case yet that proves FIFA’s corruption. On the other hand, there certainly is a “well, duh” aspect to the building scandal as well.
The report from the Sunday Times that Qatari official and former FIFA executive committee member Mohamed bin Hammam paid out $5 million worth of bribes dominated the media landscape worldwide. The tales of bribes to various world soccer officials is no shock, there’s even the perfunctory Jack Warner cameo for good measure. I mean, who hasn’t been involved in a nefarious deal with Jack Warner?
The story is moving forward quickly. FIFA’s own investigation into the matter is set to be finished next week and published after the World Cup. And FIFA vice-president Jim Boyce has already put the idea of a re-vote on the table for the 2022 World Cup. Although American soccer fans are rejoicing at the thought of hosting the 2022 World Cup and righting this wrong… not so fast. Even if the tournament is taken away from Qatar there were other countries that were left in the cold during the tainted bidding process. Namely, Australia, who is also holding up their hand if the tournament is ultimately taken away from Qatar.
Moreover, the narrow focus on the 2022 World Cup and where the tournament will eventually be held misses the forest for the trees. While the initial reaction has led most of us in America to the thought of hosting the 2022 World Cup, this is a much bigger story than the location of one tournament. Namely, the widespread corruption in world soccer’s governing body of which the 2022 World Cup is only the very tip of the tip of the iceberg. Even if FIFA does remove the tournament from Qatar and hold it in the USA or Australia or even England, there’s no assurance that it will be anything but a bandaid trying to plug one leak of many in FIFA’s sinking ship. At this point, there is no guarantee a re-vote or moving the tournament would be little more than temporary appeasement for FIFA’s critics.
Consider the central figure in the Qatar bribery story of the Sunday Times - Mohamed bin Hammam. Bin Hammam was the epitome of FIFA’s one-percenters. An executive committee member for over a decade who was President of the Asian Football Confederation. He challenged Sepp Blatter for the FIFA Presidency in 2011 and couldn’t even make it to a vote until he was banned for life by FIFA for corruption and offering bribes for votes. Blatter ended up running unopposed, and plans to run for a next term as the head of FIFA. When FIFA bans you for life over corruption claims, let me tell you, you are REALLY, REALLY CORRUPT. And if that isn’t comical enough, bin Hammam was banned for life a second time by FIFA in 2012 after the initial decision was overturned. Naturally, bin Hammam’s presidential campaign was aimed towards bringing cleaning up FIFA and even installing a “transparency committee.”
I’ll allow you a few moments to pick yourself up off the floor after doubling over in a fit of uncontrollable laughter.
If we look at the bigger picture, all of FIFA’s conspiratorial problems being blamed on bin Hammam and Qatar actually help one man most of all – Sepp Blatter. The hints have been put out there showing Blatter’s willingness to disassociate with Qatar with the FIFA President saying the process was a “mistake” on multiple occasions. If the corruption allegations fall squarely on bin Hammam, Blatter’s former presidential rival, it’s terrific PR for Blatter and FIFA. They can stand on the hollow platform and empty promises of stamping out corruption for the umpteenth time. Meanwhile, Blatter can move ahead with his own empirical reign well in tact and spend many more millions of dollars on movies that turn him into Gandhi, or something.
In spite of calls for him to resign over a separate FIFA bribery scandal (I know it’s hard to keep track at this point), Blatter has remained the teflon patriarch of FIFA over the years. In spite of his laughable, tepid response to racism in world soccer, he has survived. In spite of seeing at least a dozen other FIFA executive committee members fall to corruption charges since 2010, Blatter has survived. In spite of his mentor and predecessor Joao Havelange seeing his legacy in tatters due to corruption, Blatter has survived.
Somehow Blatter continues to stand while rival after rival falls on their own sword. You either have to believe that Blatter is truly the Eliot Ness of FIFA or he’s been able to deftly use his power and invulnerability to its fullest advantage. I know which way I’m leaning.
So what happens if there is a re-vote for Qatar – who’s to say that this round of voting won’t be as filled with corruption as the last one was? Does anyone honestly believe that a re-vote will be the end of corruption in FIFA and world soccer? If so, the Russian World Cup in 2018 would like to have a word with you. We may celebrate these events in the short-term, but it is not a long-term solution. FIFA will go on as corrupt as ever until there is widespread, institutional transformation and outside oversight.
They say to kill a snake, you have to cut off its head. And the 2022 World Cup sure isn’t it. Not even close.