Holding FIFA Accountable

June 30th, 2014

What do you call an entity with huge amounts of money, a monopoly on a hugely popular good, and no transparency or accountability structure whatsoever? The answer is not a corporation or a corrupt dictator. It’s FIFA.

FIFA (in French: Fédération Internationale de Football Association) has a long history of bribery, questionable profits, scandals, and shadowy deals.

As Tax Justice Network has shown, the organization has created its own “tax bubble,” forcing nations out of tax revenue by negotiating tax exemption from all types of levies, including income and sales taxes. Christian Aid has, for example, shown that in the current World Cup, Brazil lost about $530 million in foregone tax revenues as a result of these tax breaks.

Host nations agree to these conditions, as Christian Aid has put it, because of FIFA’s “obscene insistence” that World Cup host countries give tax breaks worth hundreds of millions of dollars in exchange for the privilege of hosting the event.

This obscenity is highly related to the alleged corruption and bribery that gave Qatar the privilege of hosting the 2022 World Cup. FIFA’s executive committee picked Qatar despite the fact that the nation was the only “high risk” option of the bids and that its summer conditions will create a “potential health risk” for participators. The evidence suggesting the selection was biased is pretty damning. According to an investigation by the London’s Sunday Times, former FIFA executive committee member Mohamed bin Hammam of Qatar funneled $5 million to soccer officials so they would support Qatar’s bid.

Actually bin Hammam was already suspended from FIFA’s executive committee for much of the same behavior. In 2011 Mohamed bin Hammam allegedly attempted to bribe the twenty-five heads executives who were voting in an upcoming FIFA presidential election. FIFA suspended bin Hammam and asked those officials (who either did or did not accept the bribes) to come to an ethics committee hearing in Miami on their involvement. The officials had not actual obligation to attend the meeting, so of course 18 of the 25 did not show up.

Diego Maradona, the retired Argentine football legend, had this to say to Abu Dhabi daily, Al-Ittihad, about bribes within FIFA:

“There are huge bribes in [FIFA]. Those behind them must be held accountable, especially in regards to the latest events related to awarding Qatar the 2022 World Cup. Where has this money gone, who received it, and why,must all be investigated.”

In fact, as these scandals show, there are few ways for anyone to do so. I should note that FIFA is internally investigating the selection process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. The investigation is led by FIFA’s chief ethics investigator, Michael Garcia, who is scheduled to release a report on the issue next month. But ultimately, the report may be no more than a slap on the hand, and it’s unlikely the internal review process will do much to hold anyone accountable.

There are few formal structures that hold the organization accountable. Swiss law, for example, allows the government to step in on the organization’s governance. Technically, sponsors also have the strength to pressure FIFA into change. But the Swiss and the sponsors are likely to continue to do what they have been doing, and that’s nothing.

So, yes, FIFA will easily survive these scandals. As I said in 2011 and I’ll say again now: don’t be surprised when this scandal isn’t the last. Without transparency or accountability, corruption is never far away.

Written by Ann Hollingshead

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