The World Cup kicked off in Brazil on June 12 amid fanfare, but also local protests and international condemnation of organizer FIFA’s corruption and problematic inner workings.
FIFA was founded in 1904 in Paris as a simple rule-making committee that aimed to regulate the guidelines for a new, rapidly expanding sport when played between nations. But as a New York Times article points out, from its humble start, FIFA has changed over time into one of the most profitable and disreputable organizations in the history of sports.
FIFA claims itself a non-profit organization. But the fact is, it is extremely profitable. FIFA has its headquarters in the tax haven of Switzerland. According to a Guardian article, the group stands to rake in $4.5 billion (27.96 billion yuan) from this World Cup alone. The Guardian article says this is how FIFA operates: “Helicopter into a country, enjoy tax-exempt status, wrack up revenue from corporate sponsors and broadcasters, then take off to the next destination.”
A Salon article offers further explanation. FIFA requires countries to protect their windfall at the people’s expense. Take this year’s World Cup as an example. At FIFA’s request, the Brazilian congress passed a law that gave FIFA and its sponsors exclusive commercial control over zones surrounding the stadiums. It also exempts World Cup sponsors – multinational corporations like Budweiser and McDonald’s – from Brazilian income, industrial and import taxes until the end of 2015.
FIFA goes to extreme lengths to protect its interests. According to a CNN report, alcoholic drinks used to be banned in Brazilian stadiums because of the high death rate among fans. But because Budweiser is one of the key sponsors of FIFA, the organization forced Brazil to change the potentially life-saving law to allow Budweiser to sell beer.
FIFA’s officials travel in private jets and put on pompous airs. But they are not doing their job well. One of FIFA’s responsibilities is to police match-fixing, the practice of arranging games to be played with a pre-determined result. But according to a New York Times investigation, only six people on its staff of 350 are responsible for such duties. FIFA is supposed to monitor corruption, but its officials are being accused of constantly involved in bribery scandals. There have long been allegations that bribes secured the 2022 World Cup for Qatar.
Many Brazilian people have been protesting to the government and FIFA over a game they can ill afford. Dave Zirin, writing in The New York Times, says for the first time the world is seeing FIFA for what it is: A stateless corporation that takes bribes while working with world leaders who want to use the majesty of the World Cup to push through their development agendas at great human cost.
“The World Cup can be staged in countries with existing stadiums and infrastructure. Moreover, the secret bidding process for host countries must end so that soccer isn’t abused for economic and political ends,” Zirin writes.