There are many reasons why it’s wrong to spend public funds on elite sport, but last week’s FIFA debacle is a particularly salient one.
In a not so surprising ‘revelation’, it emerged that football’s governing body, FIFA, is rife with corruption. Indeed, the only surprise for soccer fans and casual observers is that it appears something is finally being done about it.
The beautiful game has been riddled with corruption for decades. Having been a virtual amateur body since its inception, Brazilian João Havelange recognised the colossal economic potential of football and wrested control of FIFA in 1974. As Havelange duly turned global soccer into the financial behemoth it is today during his 24-year reign, he also pioneered the sleaze and corruption that FIFA is now famous for.
Havelange’s protégé for 17 years? One Sepp Blatter, who said when he was elected president of FIFA in 1998, ‘I am for continuity’.
Blatter has been true to his word as FIFA has continued to be plagued by accusations of corruption and nepotism. Amongst a litany of bizarre decisions, FIFA awarded the 2022 World Cup to Qatar – a country where average temperatures exceed 50 degrees Celsius during June (when the World Cup is usually held), has no major football stadiums, has a population smaller than Brisbane, and where people are whipped and jailed for homosexuality.
Almost as entertaining are the explanations put forward by FIFA. On the weekend, Blatter said the current corruption accusations were revenge from the American and English media for their nations’ failed Word Cup bids. Indeed, disgraced former FIFA powerbroker Jack Warner described the corruption charges levelled at him in 2011 as the work of Zionism.
All this brought the Football Federation of Australia (FFA) back into the spotlight over Australia’s failed World Cup bid. During that process, the FFA paid $500,000 into a Trinidad and Tobagan bank account to re-develop a stadium there in the hope of securing votes. Suffice to say, the cash has disappeared. The FFA claim Warner subsequently stole the money and that it had not reported the theft to any law enforcement body because FIFA told them not to. The FFA also gave pearl necklaces to the wives of top FIFA officials.
Australia’s World Cup bid gained only a single vote in the selection process and cost Australian taxpayers $45 million.
But at least the FFA voted against Blatter in the FIFA elections held on Friday, breaking with the powerful Asian confederation of which Australia is a part.
Blatter retained the FIFA presidency by a healthy 133 to 73.
UPDATE: Seff Blatter has now resigned as FIFA president.