The last two weeks have been quite eventful for FIFA, the international governing body of soccer. Last week an ethics investigation was launched to determine the extent of alleged vote-selling by two members of the 24-member team which will award the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cup.
The ethics committee has suspended the two suspected members, one of whom, Nigerian FIFA rep Amos Adamu, allegedly offered his vote for £500,000 ($786,000).
On the heels of these allegations came a fresh round this morning. Michael Zen-Ruffinen, a former FIFA general secretary, was filmed by undercover journalists describing ways in which a potential host country might “persuade” certain voters to vote in its favor (hint: women and money).
In the video, he appears to name several allegedly corrupt officials, referring to one as “the biggest gangster you will find on Earth.”
Additionally, Mr. Zen-Ruffinen has claimed that the 2018 bidders Spain/Portugal have teamed up with 2022 bidder Qatar to share supporters. This would make it so that each of the two bids would start with seven votes, just five shy of the amount needed to secure the World Cup.
FIFA officials have confirmed that they are indeed investigating an allegiance, but they have not disclosed the countries which are suspected.
Sepp Blatter, the president of FIFA, came out swinging during a press conference and bristled at the suggestion that FIFA is a corrupt organization. Responding to a question posed by a German reporter, he stated:
“I was a little bit surprised that you say is FIFA corrupt. FIFA is actually in the world of sport a well-recognised organisation and institution and if there are some activities that are against the ethics and the morals that’s why the ethics committee came in. So let us do our job and clarify the situation and bring back credibility to football, and we do it now. Trust us and you will see confidence will be restored.”
Allegations of corruption are nothing new for FIFA, or for international sports governing associations in general (see: IOC). Andrew Jennings, a reporter who spent twelve years investigating the IOC and who testified in front of Congress about the bribery involving the Salt Lake Olympics in 2002, has written extensively about FIFA. He also happens to be the only journalist banned from Mr. Blatter’s press conferences. He alleges far-reaching corruption in FIFA:
“First, they’re operating for profit in a criminal manner. We know what thievery looks like, and one can point to a number of criminal acts. Second, protection. Historically, by any definition, that’s when you’ve got money going into the criminal justice system.”
The United States and England are also in the running to host future World Cups, including those in 2018 and 2022. With the host country decisions expected early in December, the investigations must proceed at a breakneck pace in order to finish in the next five weeks. FIFA should seriously consider postponing the vote until the new year in order to give the investigators time to complete their task.