Allegations of corruption and bribery in the ranks of FIFA have been hanging over the organisation for years, but when several high ranking officials were arrested at a 5 star Swiss hotel on suspicion of accepting bribes in relation to the 2018 and 2022 world cup bids (won by Russia and Qatar), the allegations exploded into life. The US authorities who led the investigation have failed to rule out more arrests, something which will worry other FIFA officials.
The decision to host the 2022 world cup in Qatar has been under the spotlight ever since the announcement in December 2010. The Middle Eastern country has faced criticism over its human rights policy; there have been reports of slave labour being used to build the stadiums, the number worker deaths is massively higher than in Brazil or South Africa (the previous two world cups hosts, in 2014 and 2010) and worker deaths could exceed 4,000 by the time all the facilities to host the world cup are ready.
Even hosting a world cup in Qatar is incredibly difficult. The temperature in the summer regularly exceeds 50°C, which is an impossible temperature to play football in. Hosting the tournament in the winter is looking likely, but it would hugely disrupt the domestic football leagues in England and Europe, all of which have no winter break to allow the players to play in a world cup without disrupting the club domestic season. The German, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese leagues have a winter break between 10 and 14 days, but as the 2014 world cup ran for one day under a month, these breaks are nowhere near long enough.
All of this contributes to make hosting the world cup in Qatar look very strange from the outside, especially as Qatar has barely any football history and is ranked 99th in the football world rankings by FIFA themselves. They beat Australia, Japan, South Korea and The USA to the nomination, all of which can claim at least some form of football pedigree and all of which rank higher than Qatar.
However, even if the Qatari and Russian world cups are deemed to have been illegally won, realistically it is too late to strip Qatar of their hosting rights and there would be even less chance of the Russian tournaments being given to someone else.
Sepp Blatter insists he does not fear arrest, but the American authorities who made the initial arrests haven’t ruled out arresting him. Blatter denies having received a bribe of $10 million in 2010 (although South Africa has admitted paying a similar sum to Jack Warner, a man at the centre of the scandal), but there have been reports circulating that he will be questioned by Swiss authorities in relation to the 2018 and 2022 world cups. Amidst all of the drama and controversy, the FIFA presidential elections still took place, despite calls to postpone it until there was some clarity on who was guilty of accepting bribes and who was innocent. Despite these, the election still went ahead, with Blatter hoping to win a 5th successive term. He managed to beat his opponent, Prince Ali of Jordan, despite the voting having to go to a second round of votes, Prince Ali withdrew during the voting, giving the win to Blatter by 133 votes to 73. However, Blatter has since resigned his position as president, following confirmed news he himself is being investigated on similar allegations.
Vladimir Putin has also waded into the debate, clearly worried about the possible repercussions of this investigation on the 2018 world cup in Russia. Putin said that he was surprised that the US made the FIFa arrests, as events did not take place on American soil or involve US citizens. He has also hinted that he thought it was part of the US trying to take the world cup away from Russia. The American authorities haven’t commented on Putin’s statement but there is no doubt that his comments will have been noted by his opposite numbers in America.
FIFA is undoubtedly facing the biggest crisis of its 111 year existence, made even more complicated by the fact it will be without a president to steer the ship until March of next year. People in high positions throughout the authority being convicted will shake FIFA to its core, but hopefully this will be the last bribery scandal the organisation is ever involved in, if only for the sake of domestic and international football.
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