Soccer’s international governing body had a really bad weekend. Twelve days before FIFA kicks off the world’s largest sporting event in Brazil, the New York Timespublished details of alleged match fixing in the run up to the last World Cup in South Africa. Then the Sunday Times (paywall: see the Guardian) released the latest and most damningly detailed report of corruption in Qatar’s successful bid to host the 2022 World Cup.
The match-fixing report mixes seemingly amatuer criminal techniques with sophistication and global reach emanating from a Singaporean front company. FIFA’s report investigated a total of 15 games, and the report is remarkably blunt in its conclusion: “Were the listed matches fixed? On the balance of probabilities, yes!” For example, the day of a match between South Africa and Guatemala ahead of the 2010 World Cup, a referee for the game deposited $100,000 in $100 bills in a bank in South Africa. According to the NYT’s Declan Hill and Jere Longman, the referee put in a questionable performance: “Even to the casual fan, his calls were suspicious — he called two penalties for hand balls even though the ball went nowhere near the players’ hands”.
The NYT’s report comes on the back of several high-profile reports of match fixing.Earlier this year, a match fixer claimed his financial backing enabled Nigeria and Honduras to qualify for the last World Cup. In 2013, Europol detailed its suspicions regarding more than 380 club matches. Among those were games in the Champions League, the highest level of European club competition.
The Sunday Times’ investigation shows that it isn’t just the games that might be rigged. So are the decisions about their venues. Using millions of documents leaked by a high-ranking FIFA official, the Guardian reports that Qatari construction executive and FIFA executive committee member Mohamed bin Hammam paid a total of $5 million in cash bribes to ensure his country won its bid to host the 2022 World Cup. Soccer is a temperate climate winter sport, so the idea of holding a summer tournament in a location where 120 degree F temperatures are the norm always seemed odd. It now seems like the Qatar World Cup will be in the winter. Or it may simply be moved to another location because of the taint of corruption and oppressive labor conditions. FIFA’s response to the NYT and Guardian is just 52 words long and does not address the substance of the reports.
Soccer is a massive global business. FIFA, which is based in Switzerland, is expected to take in a total of $4 billion this World Cup cycle from TV deals, sponsorships and ticket sales. Club soccer is an even bigger business, with most of it coming from TV rights. And betting on soccer is unknowably large. One estimate puts the total better revenues – legal and illegal – at between $500 billion and $700 billion a year. The incentives are simply too skewed to end in good governance. With that much money in play and little oversight or accountability, bad behavior shouldn’t be too surprising. —Ben Walsh
On to today’s links: