FIFA, or the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, is the governing body of association football, futsal and beach football. In terms of football, they have done great things over the years to host amazing tournaments, and expanded the beautiful game all over the world. However, in recent decades FIFA has grown untrustworthy among football fans and officials. Several controversies regarding key FIFA officials and the selection of host countries for major soccer tournaments had people all over the world calling for a change in leadership.I first noticed this when Qatar was selected to host the World Cup in 2022. Qatar, which only has 1.7 million people, is located in the Middle East where it is extremely hot, doesn’t have many stadiums and is still an emerging football scene, has several human rights violations, and was selected to host over countries like the US, Japan, Korea, and Australia. That didn’t seem right.
Qatar relies heavily on migrant workers for the construction of their stadiums. However, the construction companies confiscate their passports and force them to work in +40º C weather for long hours to build the stadiums. According to the Daily Mail, 4000 workers are expected to die before kick-off of the opening game. Qatar also has laws that make being homosexual illegal, and FIFA President Sepp Blatter responded to the issue by saying: “I would say they should refrain from any sexual activities.” This is not an appropriate response for a FIFA President. In addition, due to the high temperatures in the summer, the 2022 World Cup will have to be held in the winter, which will create serious problems for domestic leagues around the world.
For more information on the human rights violations regarding the 2022 World Cup in Qatar check out this recent report by Amnesty International.
Everyone saw FIFA President Sepp Blatter as the source of all of FIFA’s problems (who had been in office since 1998). With someone in power for so long, it would have been easy for Blatter to forge strong ties with various FIFA committee members to coverup anything he wanted and to keep him in power. We all knew something wasn’t right, but how deep did the corruption go, and how much did everyone know? There have been numerous other signs and allegations that have come up over the years regarding FIFA corruption, but the turning point for FIFA came in 2015.
On May 27, 2015, Loretta Lynch, the United States Attorney General, held a press conference where she stated that the US will be indicting several high ranking FIFA officials and corporate executives for various corruption charges including, racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies spanning two decades. Blatter’s reign was starting to crumble, and the world felt very optimistic that Blatter would not be re-elected to office in the FIFA election held several days after Lynch’s announcement. However, to everyone’s surprise, he won. If these corruption scandals couldn’t stop Blatter, what would? Again to everyone’s surprise, just several days after being re-elected, Blatter announced that he would step down as FIFA President until a new President would be elected.
The world cheered when this announcement was made. FIFA was at a point where real change could be implemented with the right person in charge. On 25 September, 2015 an investigating was launched regarding payments Blatter made to UEFA President Michel Platini (who was most likely going to be the new president). As a result, both were later suspended for 90 days and then banned for 6 years from footballing activities by FIFA’s Ethics Committee. The door was now wide open for FIFA President, and the less of a connection to Blatter, the better.
On February 26, 2016, FIFA held the election for the new FIFA president, and 45-year-old Gianni Infantino was voted into office. Having served as UEFA’s General Secretary and having helped enact many policies that are ethical and will have a positive impact on football during his tenure, I am confident that Infantino will restore FIFA and football back to the prestige it is known for.
45 days into his presidency, Infantino was interviewed by Fox Soccer’s Alexi Lallas, and many of FIFA’s ethical issues were discussed. When asked whose responsibility it is to ensure that the corrupt individuals and entities in FIFA are discovered and removed from the organization, Infantino said that it’s everyone’s responsibility who loves fútball to spread the message of legal and ethical behavior, and that we must each start with ourselves. He also added that if corrupt officials don’t come forward they will eventually be discovered by FIFA or by justice systems around the world. Infantino and FIFA have taken a zero tolerance policy to corrupt activities by filing a restitution claim in the United States. By doing so, the new FIFA President hopes that all offenders will be forced to payback any money they stole from football.
While Infantino’s plans to ensure that FIFA is rid of corruption doesn’t seem very concrete, and may unsettle some soccer fans and officials, he ensured his constituents that it will take time to make significant changes. In regards to other skepticism, Infantino played down any involvement in the Panama Papers, saying it was coincidence that his signature was on a UEFA commercial document discovered among the leaked files, and that UEFA and its marketing partners handled everything legally. He has however, made some bigger strides in terms of the Qatar World Cup by declaring 3 out 4 construction firms ineligible to build the stadiums, and having the 4th construction company amend improper operations.
To me it seems like Infantino has already made some initial groundwork in fixing FIFA’s problems. Like he said, it will take time to get certain processes into place to make sure FIFA is transparent and ethical, and I am confident he is the guys who will make that happen. We all know it is no easy task and that the new President will face some difficult challenges, but one thing is for certain, the whole world wishes him good luck!