FIFA: The Unethical Church that Governs a Beautiful Religion


The World Cup has continuously been the one of the greatest sporting spectacles to bless nations across the world. I say “bless” because for most nations around the world soccer is more than just a sport. In John Oliver’s YouTube spoof of the World Cup in Brazil, a Brazilian woman discusses how soccer truly is a religion. This highly anticipated event, occurring only once every four years, attempts to unify each nation under the religion of soccer.  Unfortunately, over the past decade the World Cup has become shrouded in controversy. Why would such an amazing event with the goal of unifying nations become subject to alleged criticism? Simple, the World Cup is run by a corrupt international civil society organization called the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA).

FIFA acts as the governing body of soccer by implementing rule changes, organizing large-scale events, and enforcing disciplinary action. However, their responsibility goes beyond the game of soccer. Many of FIFA’s activities and initiatives impact human rights and contribute to international relations. As of late, FIFA has been shirking their responsibilities in addressing prevalent human rights issues that have developed from their corrupt practices. Just recently, FIFA has announced that Qatar will host the next World Cup in 2018. This announcement has been rivaled with strong opposition from numerous constituencies. FIFA has neglected their responsibility as a civil society organization by ignoring human rights issues arising from their selection of Qatar. This paper will highlight the early history of FIFA and their transition to becoming an organization grounded in corrupt ideals. It will specifically analyze the negative implications of having the 2022 World Cup in Qatar from a deontological perspective of ethics.

In Paris 1904, FIFA was founded by a group of soccer aficionados with the intent of creating an international organization responsible for regulating the game of soccer   (Mtholyoke.edu). At this meeting, there were representatives from Belgium, France, Denmark, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the Netherlands (Mtholyoke.edu). These representatives were the heads of their national soccer regulating organizations. They discussed the creation of certain statutes that all nations must abide by upon being granted acceptance as a member of FIFA. Some of these basic, preliminary statutes included a forbiddance of playing for multiple nations, an agreement to abide to the laws of football (soccer), and an annual fee for continued membership within the association (FIFA 2014). One of the most influential provisions included in the statutes was FIFA’s undisputed power in organizing an international footballing event.

FIFA initially faced struggles in expanding their organization. For example, during their inaugural international event in Uruguay, the World Cup, they only had national teams from 13 different nations competing against each other (Eisenberg 56). There are currently 207 different nations competing for a chance to be one of the 32 teams to participate in the World Cup (Eisenberg 56). Much of FIFA’s growth occurred right after the Second World War in 1945. The rise of the nation-state proved to be a major catalyst for FIFA’s growth. Since “more than hundred former colonies, break-away territories, and a wide variety of other political communities became independent nation states” (Eisenberg 56) it meant that they were able to create their own laws. These newly-formed, individual nations yearned to be a part of international organizations such as FIFA.

During this period from 1945 to around 1980, FIFA became extremely lenient with their membership applications which subjected them to severe criticism. From 1904 to 1945, FIFA admitted 60 nations to be a part of their organization. From 1945 to 1965, they accepted 60 more nations into the organization (Eisenberg 56). In half the amount of time, they acquired the same amount of international members. FIFA’s growth generated a negative perception of the organization because they were admitting countries with authoritarian regimes and corrupt politicians. From the 1960’s to the 1980’s the global public was beginning to question authoritarian regimes. People were becoming much more aware of human rights issues. The dormant, interconnected nature between FIFA and politics began to reveal itself. For example, in 1973, FIFA’s general-secretary Kaser was influenced by the Pinochet Regime in Chile to allow a football qualification game take place in the National Stadium which had also been used as a torture prison (Eisenberg 58). Furthermore, in 1978, FIFA negligently allowed the World Cup to take place in Argentina despite the recent takeover by the military dictatorship of General Videla (Eisenberg 58). Clearly, FIFA’s narrow-minded global political outlook has been woven into their organization since its early origins.

FIFA has tried to improve their international image through stricter standards and a commitment to human rights. This was evident when FIFA suspended South Africa in 1964 from being able to participate in the World Cup. They went on to expel South Africa in 1976 because South Africa was not compliant with FIFA’s non-discriminatory policies. In 1992, “FIFA’s  acts in South Africa near the end of apartheid contributed to the end of such problematic system; when Nigeria was finally allowed into the league, it signaled a major breakthrough for the national unity of the country”(Malliris 2013).  It can be observed that FIFA has the power to influence real social and political change. The cliché “with great power comes great responsibility” directly relates to FIFA because their organizational hierarchy has allowed them to exploit this power with little accountability.

FIFA’s organizational hierarchy consists of an executive committee that contains FIFA’s president, a General Secretary, eight vice presidents, and fifteen members, along with a Congress that contains a representative from each international soccer association (Balser 2013). FIFA’s major organizational flaw lies in their reporting standards. The Federation is ordered so that the President does not have to report to any superior board of directors. The lack of an unbiased board of directors allows the FIFA president to exercise complete authority over the Executive Committee. He is only subject to Congress which meets once a year. The irony behind this is that the FIFA president is “only accountable to the FIFA Congress, which he leads” (Pielke 2014). So how is the FIFA president regulated? Simply put, the president is not regulated. The president has unlimited jurisdiction in making decisions. A hierarchical structure that places a heavy reliance on the president’s decisions, with no external auditing system, facilitates an environment susceptible to corruption and bribery.

The current president of FIFA, Sepp Blatter, has attempted to create an independent governance structure to advise FIFA on ethical reforms. In 2011, Blatter hired a corruption expert, Mark Pieth, from the University of Basel to head the “Independent Governance Committee”. These strides seem to reflect Blatter’s commitment to creating an independent auditing body for FIFA. However, upon further investigation, “a Swiss Newspaper revealed that prior to being appointed as a committee chair Pieth had been paid $128,000 and $5,000 per day to prepare a scoping document on FIFA reform” (Pielke 260). FIFA did not disclose this information and neither did Pieth. One of the representatives from Transparency International was going to be a part of the IGC, but resigned from the job upon hearing this news. Furthermore, Pieth was not the only one receiving compensation from FIFA. 6 out of the 12 had direct financial relationships with FIFA (Pielke 260). The IGC was created to be an independent body from FIFA. If FIFA is paying them, the IGC will have more incentive to demand less from FIFA regarding reform policy.

In 2012, Pieth and the IGC delivered a report on suggested reforms for FIFA. The proposed reforms were much less thorough in content and bulk than the scoping paper Pieth wrote a year prior. He demanded for FIFA to refrain from “picking cherries” (Pielke 260) in implementing these suggestions. Sepp Blatter had other ideas responding, “Even if Professor Pieth says we shall not cherry pick, we cannot take the whole tree. It is impossible to take the whole tree and have all the cherries down” (Pielke 260).  In other words, Pieth is requiring FIFA to make all the changes he suggest in his paper. He does not want Blatter to cherry-pick from the selection of reforms to those that Blatter finds necessary to change. Blatter seems to acknowledge Pieth’s requests, but the reforms that have been enforced have had little impact on FIFA’s corrupt culture. The controversy behind the upcoming World Cup in Qatar is a product of FIFA’s inability to institute influential reform.

On December 2nd, 2010 Sepp Blatter announced that Qatar would host the 2022 World Cup. Further speculation seemed to indicate that the bidding process was rigged. Several members on the executive board of FIFA were accused of bribery and corruption. The leading perpetrator behind the alleged bribery is Mohammed Bin Hammam who was running to be FIFA president (Malliris 2013). Right after he was accused of bribery, he left the organization claiming that he had not bribed officials in securing Qatar as the host country. Hammam was not the only FIFA executive surrounded by bribery accusations. There have been four other FIFA members accused of bribery just over the past several years (Malliris 2013).

The alleged bribery surrounding the World Cup in Qatar is not the only reason why FIFA is currently under negative spotlight. Workers in Qatar have been battling brutal working conditions and receiving inadequate pay in their efforts to prepare for the World Cup in 2022. Amnesty International, a non-profit organization committed to the protection of human rights, has produced a report highlighting the horrors taking place in Qatar. From August 2012 to August 2013, the population of Qatar has risen 10.5% (Amnesty International 2013). An influx of migrant Nepalese and Indian workers have been a large factor behind this population increase. The construction firms employed by FIFA exploit the migrant workers by promising higher salaries than they plan on paying. Often, their low salaries are withheld for months at a time. Why won’t migrant workers leave their employers? Their employers confiscate their passports upon entering into a contract. Migrant workers are not able to leave the country without obtaining their passport from their employers (Amnesty International 2013). Sepp Blatter has been confronted about the exploitation of migrant workers, but they have not intervened. Furthermore, workers are subject to overly-excessive work hours and insubstantial safety standards. There have already been fifteen Nepalese migrant workers who have died working to construct the stadiums for the World Cup (Malliris 2013). The International Trade Union Confederation forecasts that there will be around four thousand deaths upon the completion of FIFA’s project (Malliris 2013). This clearly means that there is something wrong with the safety standards of their current construction practices. However, FIFA refuses to believe that there is anything wrong with their current construction procedure. Finally, workers are provided inadequate, unsustainable rooming arrangements (Amnesty International 2013). It is no secret that Qatar’s summers are brutally hot. Temperatures reach almost 120 degrees Fahrenheit.  The World Cup workers do not receive air conditioning or fans in their housing accommodations. Most of the time they have to sleep on the roof of their dwellings.

On FIFA’s website, they advocate clear deontological goals with their alleged duty to protect human rights. Kant’s ethical framework of deontology establishes a categorical imperative that encourages all organizations to realize their duty and act according to this duty. Shannon Bowen, a doctor of philosophy, utilizes Kantian Philosophy to provide an ethical analysis of the organization as a moral decision-maker. She develops the “Ethical Consideration Triangle” to further support Kant’s categorical imperative. Specifically, the triangle mirrors the concepts of deontology establishing that “the imperatives duty, intention, and dignity and respect for others form the considerations of the triangle” (Bowen 2000). FIFA has neglected their duties as a civil society organization by instituting their corrupt intentions and disregarding the dignity of the migrant workers in Qatar.

FIFA graciously outlines their duty as organization under the mission statement on their website. They believe that they “have a duty to society that goes beyond football: to improve the lives of young people and their surrounding communities, to reduce the negative impact of their activities, and to make the most they can out of the positives” (FIFA 2014).  The civil society organization outlines duties that are completely attainable. However, FIFA has not been living up to their duty in reducing the negative impacts of their activities. This stems from FIFA’s inability to forecast potential negative externalities upon selecting the host country. As evidenced previously, it is no secret that Qatar uses the Khalafa system where visas are restricted by the employer. Qatar is essentially promoting slave labor. There is no way FIFA was that oblivious to overlook the human rights issues taking place in Qatar. The European Parliament, skeptical about Qatar’s selection, reflects on the situation saying that “FIFA should have conditioned their decision on the implementation of concrete human rights reforms, but decided to simply push ahead” (Asia News Monitor).  FIFA acknowledges these suggestions but has not directly expressed the need for human rights reform in Qatar. FIFA and Qatar are too concerned with the creation of these magnificent footballing stadiums that will likely be used only for the World Cup. The question FIFA should be asking is whether the World Cup in Qatar outweighs the “cost of human dignity” (Shackle 2013).

Amnesty International provides Sepp Blatter’s response to the issue proposed above. He argues that Qatar and the construction companies have more of a responsibility than FIFA does. He asserts that “it is not a direct intervention that could change things” (Amnesty International 2013). However, a direct intervention can change things. FIFA has all the power in this situation. They can demand stricter labor standards from Qatar or they can switch the host country because the Qatar World Cup is not even scheduled to take place until 2022. Blatter keeps referring to the fact that that they are preoccupied with the upcoming 2018 World Cup in Russia to justify FIFA’s inaction in Qatar. Therefore, FIFA has already acknowledged that they are disregarding their duty to reduce the negative impacts of their decisions. They are shifting the blame on Qatar, ignoring their commitment in fostering human rights through the game of soccer.

Soccer is a religion to me, just like most of the world. How long will it take for our Church to become ethical?

Works Cited

Balser, Brittney. (2013). “The Structure and Policies of FIFA”. Retrieved 3/30, 2015 from

http://sites.duke.edu/wcwp.

Blitz, Roger. “Fifa in Turmoil Over Qatar World Cup Bid.” FT.com (2014)ProQuest. Web. 31 Mar. 2015.

Eisenberg, Christiane. FIFA 1975-2000: the business of a football development organisation. In: Historical Social Research 31 (2006), 1, pp. 55-68.

“Europe/Qatar: European Parliament Passes Qatar World Cup Resolution.” Asia News Monitor. Nov 25 2013. ProQuest. Web. 31 Mar. 2015.

“FIFA (Footballs Governing Body).” Mehnaz Tasnnim, n.d. Web. 30 Mar. 2015. <http://www.mtholyoke.edu/~tasni22m/classweb/world_politics/fifa.html&gt;.

FIFA. (2014). What we stand for. Retrieved 3/30, 2014, from http://www.fifa.com/aboutfifa/organisation/mission.html

Malliris, Christina. (2013) “The Dark Side of FIFA: Selected controversies and the future of accountability in the organization”. Retrieved 3/30, 2015 from http://sites.duke.edu/wcwp.

Pielke, Roger. “How Can FIFA Be Held Accountable?” University of Colorado, 19 Dec. 2012. Web. 30 Mar. 2015.

“The Dark Side of Migration: Spotlight on Qatar’s Construction Sector Ahead of the World Cup.” Amnesty International Publications, 2013. Web. 30 Mar. 2015.

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