When we look at football on a global scale, a name that immediately stands out is that of FIFA, the International Football Federation. It is responsible for the organization of the main international tournaments of this sport, including not only the World Cup, but also the Confederations Cup, the Beach Soccer World Cup, the football competition at the Olympic Games, and a series of other smaller competitions.
Something that is not widely discussed, however, is why FIFA has the legitimacy to monopolize the organization of these tournaments and make high-impact decisions that quickly move billions of dollars, as is the case of the choice of venues for the World Cup, something that is proven to heat up the infrastructure sector of the chosen country, as well as carrying strong tourist and political aspects.
Founded in 1904, FIFA is based in Switzerland and presents itself as a neutral body that is not align with governments, with the mission of coordinating world football. Currently, 211 national associations integrate it, and the way its structure is set up as a consequence of the size of the football industry merits a deeper look.
If we take Brazil as an example, we observe several football clubs, which are private organizations based in a certain city, grouped in a series of state football federations that coordinate regional tournaments. These state federations respond in turn to the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF), which is the country's representative in relation to FIFA. This model replicates all over the world, generating a complex web of relationships that mixes varying doses of public and private power.
The legitimacy of FIFA as part of what is known as Global Governance would originate from the trust placed by these smaller actors in their process and its rules. Without a larger single body linking these clubs and federations, it would be difficult to keep large-scale competitions going, as well as tracking the trading and selling of players and resolving more significant disputes.
It is not difficult to understand why there is a great deal of interest in keeping this industry running smoothly, as the European football market alone moves about 24 billion dollars a year, while a large national tournament like the Brazilian Championship moves 1.4 billion dollars a year.
FIFA, meanwhile, earns about 2 billion dollars a year, a substantial part of which comes from its main sponsors: Adidas, Coca-Cola, Hyundai, Visa and Sony; a group which once included Emirates and for the World Cup in Russia has the addition of Gazprom.
Corruption in so-called "sports federations", such as the Olympic Committee and the International Volleyball Federation, is relatively common. Even so, FIFA still stands out for its vast illegality and moral insufficiency.
FIFA's scandals date back to the period when it was presided over by the Brazilian João Havelange between 1974 and 1998. Towards the end of his life, Havelange had to pay restitution for a series of crimes involving manipulation and bribes. This shows that the problem didn't start today, and it includes diverse unethical practices, from aligning game results in order to favor bettors to accepting bribes to conduct their most basic activities in a given way.
The formula for disaster seems clear: the same institution investigating allegations of corruption in football is also responsible for managing sponsorships and controlling financial aspects of the sport. Added to this is an opaque structure, with leaders coming from the same groups and acting together, with a total lack of accountability for the public.
It is not surprising then that the choice of Russia and Qatar as the hosts of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups has come amid accusations of vote sales perpetuated by members of the institution's Executive Committee. Investigations have shown that a vote in favor of Qatar was worth 1.5 million dollars, which makes its victory over the United States far more meaningful than if we looked only at the conditions to host a good event provided by both countries.
In the last decade FIFA has finally begun to be more actively questioned about their attitudes, and is pressured to make changes that are long overdue, such as adding an option for the referee to ask for a live replay of a controversial play. Even so, there is a long way to go for the sport that conquers hearts all over the world to have a minimum standard of legitimacy in its governance, and many questions still need to be answered.