On 13 November, three former South American football officials went on trial in a New York courtroom in a case highlighting corruption within the sport’s governing body FIFA. More than 40 other people have pleaded guilty to participating in a 24-year scheme involving $150 million.
World sport’s governing bodies and allegations of corruption are never too far apart. Earlier this autumn Carlos Nuzman, once head of the Brazilian Olympic Committee, was arrested and accused of involvement in bribing a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to help ensure the games came to Rio. On top of that, Frankie Fredericks, once a member of the International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF) and the IOC, was charged with taking bribes in a related case.
Yet most people are unfazed. It’s just more corruption in sport, whether this time it’s FIFA or the IOC or the IAAF, or another sporting body. It’s got to the point that this November on the day the corruption trial against FIFA began, the story hardly made the headlines. That’s because editors seem to think it’s not news; that people aren’t interested.
So why don’t we care? Perhaps with the rise of populism, the general public’s cynicism has increased. We’re in a time when everyone is, apparently, trying to exploit us, whether it’s the EU or the ‘swamp’ of US politicians in Washington. Continued corruption in the business side of sport is hardly worth paying attention to. The view is almost that it’s happened before, it’s happening now, and it will continue to happen.
Perhaps it’s because many of us love the sport so much that initial interest melts away and we close our minds to the bribes and racketeering. In the end fans only care about how their team is doing. We don’t want our dreams tainted.
There’s hope proper sentences will be given to corrupt officials. It hasn’t happened in the past. Disgraced former FIFA president Sepp Blatter was only barred from FIFA related activities for six years after appeal, and then invited to the 2018 World Cup by Vladimir Putin. Yet this autumn the US is putting on trial over a dozen football officials. Swiss prosecutors are conducting around 25 separate investigations of suspected corruption linked to FIFA and World Cup bids. Perhaps harsher sentences will ensue.
Yet most of the heat is off FIFA now. Hardly any journalists cover the organization regularly and FIFA remains largely unreformed. Despite the court cases, the two next World Cups will be played in Russia and Qatar, those famous footballing nations. We simply accept that’s how it’s going to be.
We shouldn’t turn a blind eye to the corruption in world sport’s governing bodies. It taints the sport just as doping has tainted the world of athletics. The problem remaining is people won’t rise up against corruption in organisations that have never changed their ways after similar corruption scandals. The only hope is the corruption trials going on in the US will set a precedent for punishing corrupt sporting officials.