Fresh claims surrounding the choice to award the 2022 World Cup Finals to Qatar surfaced this week; the latest in a long line of stories to challenge the legacy of football’s world governing body FIFA, and its president Sepp Blatter.
The Sunday Times article claimed that former AFC (Asian Football Confederation) president Mohamed Bin Hammam spent nearly £3 million to sway FIFA executive votes to help ensure the Gulf state’s bid was successful.
The newspaper reports it has seen “hundreds of millions” of documents relating to payments made to senior football officials from a string of accounts. Whilst the Qatar 2022 committee has vehemently denied he ever lobbied on their behalf, the latest evidence would appear to suggest otherwise.
In an effort to ensure transparency, FIFA has commissioned an investigation into the matter led by New York attorney Michael Garcia. Should his report find the latest claims to be anything other than groundless, FIFA will come under pressure to re-open the vote.
Furthermore, the decision to award the tournament to Qatar has been challenged on moral and practical levels. The state’s human rights record and treatment of foreign workers has been highlighted by Amnesty International.
The initial bid promised “climate-controlled, carbon-neutral” stadiums to protect players from summer temperatures which can reach 50°C. However, Qatar has since raised the prospect of moving the finals to winter months, creating a challenge for European football authorities and organisers of the 2022 Winter Olympics, whose own tournaments would coincide with a re-scheduled World Cup. With a population of just 1.7million, many feel the state is simply too small to accommodate a World Cup.
The episode detracts from FIFA’s goal to constantly improve the “beautiful game” and its constructive efforts to promote education, health and cultural awareness through sport. The decision to award the finals to an Arab country was a “bold gamble” and in keeping with Blatter’s long held belief that the World Cup Finals should be shared between the world’s continents. Blatter has an expansionist’s legacy of awarding the first Asian (Japan and South Korea 2002) and African (South Africa 2010) tournaments.
Sepp Blatter believes sport can be an instrument of social change. Through the universal languages of football and friendship, FIFA hopes to promote greater understanding between East and West. FIFA and Blatter have made great efforts to encourage peace in the Middle East, regularly visiting the region and recognised the state of Palestine 4 years ahead of the United Nations.
However, Blatter has seen his own reputation tainted by association to the winning Qatar bid. Many believe that the man in charge bares ultimate responsibility for the culture and values of his organisation. FIFA describes their president as a “sporting diplomat,” yet he has previously made bumbling comments on issues facing the game, stating that players should settle racist instances with a “handshake” and that female players should wear more revealing kits.
FIFA has made efforts to remain politically neutral and has walked a cultural tight-rope respecting opinions and cultures across the globe. The decision to “yellow card” players who remove their shirts, whilst lampooned in the West, was made in response to concerns of decency in the East. With modern challenges of globalization come international betting syndicates and calls to bring more technology into the game to aid referees. FIFA has remained mindful of setting precedents, aiming to promote the legitimacy of sport and the notion that a referee’s decision is final.
Protests at the expense and administration of this summer’s World Cup in Brazil added to concerns around the 2022 bid process; have prompted greater calls for the organisation to reform. Limited terms in office for future presidents have been suggested, and Blatter will shortly face re-election himself having been unopposed last time. To regain credibility, FIFA must strive to be more diplomatic, diverse and transparent; particularly with regards to its expenditure, tax affairs and cash reserves.
FIFA faces common challenges to other global organisations in terms of adopting a single set of values in a world of differing cultures and beliefs. Whether FIFA and Sepp Blatter will be remembered for the productive aspects of their work remains to be seen, however their legacy is within their control and the choices they make in respect of Garcia’s report will go some way to answering that question.
What steps can FIFA take to repair its reputation in world football?