The arrest of some current and former FIFA officials by the Swiss police for extradition to the U.S. over federal corruption charges, and a subsequent raid in Zurich in a parallel investigation into the allotment of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosting rights to Russia and Qatar respectively, have brought to the fore yet again the worst-kept secret in the sporting world — that football’s governing body is steeped in endemic corruption. Since the days of João Havelange, who was FIFA president from 1974 to 1998, and then through the tenure of the incumbent, Joseph S. Blatter, charges of financial misconduct have been routinely levelled. But they merely shook the edifice; none actually hit the top of the hierarchy. However, the current round of charges are grave. The U.S. Department of Justice has alleged a “24-year scheme to enrich themselves through the corruption of international soccer” and booked people for fraud, racketeering and money laundering conspiracies. The bribes and kickbacks centred on sports marketing deals could be worth more than $150 million. One revelation is of an alleged $10-million payment to some FIFA executive committee members to vote for South Africa to host the 2010 World Cup.
This has come two days before the FIFA Congress, where 209 countries are to vote on a fifth term for Mr. Blatter; the circumstances are thus far from ideal to hold the election. True, none of the investigations have so far named Mr. Blatter. But with the alleged misdeeds having happened under his watch, there is a need to fix accountability. Four years ago when he was re-elected unopposed after his Qatari rival, Mohammed bin Hammam, had been banned amid bribery claims, he asked: “Crisis? What is a crisis?” This time he cannot be in denial. The other consequence of this scandal concerns the choice of Russia and Qatar as World Cup hosts. The race to host them was chaotic and controversial. Of the 24 voters who were to decide the claims of the two cities in 2010, two never made it to the board room, following bribery allegations. Now almost half of them stand discredited. Also, the choice of Qatar as a host was made despite concerns over its summer weather and widespread reports of its poor treatment of migrant workers. FIFA might now say the investigation was a result of its own report submitted in November 2014, but it is a fact that the organisation’s ethics committee had closed its investigation into the bidding process, ruling that breaches, if any, were only of “very limited scope”. Football is perhaps the only truly global sport, and it is loved by millions of fans as the beautiful game. For it to remain that, the need is for democratic governance and not the current, allegedly corrupt, fiefdom that has seen just two presidents in four decades.