Written in 2013 by Maggie Lin
There are the comic strips that you read out of the Sunday newspaper as a kid, and then there are the comic strips laden with satirical critiques of current events, politics, and agencies. The latter more likely produces awkward chuckles rather than hearty laughter because they point to underlying societal problems, which makes people uneasy. While satire does exaggerate situations, there is always some truth behind them.
That brings us to FIFA, the premier governing body of international football. Since football is the most popular sport in the world, FIFA basically runs the world. Countries suspend their laws for FIFA, as South Africa did for the 2010 World Cup ; and FIFA sponsored matches have both incited and stopped wars, as in the cases of The Soccer War between Honduras and El Salvador after 1969 World Cup qualifiers  and the ceasefire between warring parties in the First Ivorian Civil War after the Ivory Coast qualified for the 2006 FIFA World Cup .
Having been founded in 1904 , FIFA is younger than many nations, and yet is arguably one of the most influential institutions in the entire world. With great power comes great responsibility. However over the years, FIFA has been marred by valid accusations ranging from corruption and money laundering to media suppression and election rigging. Critics have called out FIFA and its current President Sepp Blatter an immeasurable number of times on these controversies, but as a governing body without official subjects, FIFA needs to answer to no one.
In its mission statement , FIFA describes itself in a good light, but the following satirical comic strips do not give that impression. Instead, they pinpoint major issues in the way FIFA is run and how it runs football. Does that mean FIFA is rotten to the core?
Accusations of corruption among FIFA officials have circulated for decades. Now, they are being confirmed as court systems formally indict high-ranking officials of FIFA with fraud, bribery, or embezzlement. Earlier in 2013, once a Swiss court ruled that João Havelange, FIFA’s president from 1974 to 1998, took millions of kickback dollars from FIFA’s financial partners , he resigned from his position as FIFA’s honorary president . At least 5 members on the ruling executive committee that decided the 2018 and 2022 World Cups were also convicted of bribery . More specifics about key players in FIFA’s financial mismanagement can be found in The Dark Side of FIFA: Selected controversies and the future of accountability in the organization .
Piling onto the accusations, former players who are no longer affiliated with FIFA have spoken out against current FIFA president Sepp Blatter and other high-ranking officials as well. In 2013, Brazilian congressman and former soccer player Romario called Blatter “a thief” and secretary general Jerome Valcke “a blackmailer” . For a more in-depth look into corruption within FIFA, consider viewing Part 1 and Part 2 of the documentary FIFA’s Dirty Secrets, created by investigative reporter Andrew Jennings with BBC Panorama.
The first comic depicts Blatter as the source of bribes, who “cleans up” his act by paying others off with a trail of money. Interestingly enough, Blatter was has yet to be indicted with bribery charges. Is it really possible that Blatter, who served as Havelange’s assistant from 1974 until 1998 , was completely oblivious to the under-the-table dealings, and never once took part? That’s difficult to believe, and many have been calling for Blatter to simply step down . The second comic shows Blatter as a player ignorantly trying to play in a field of corruption, which implies he thinks he can ignore the problem, but in reality it will be his own downfall.
Russia 2018 & Qatar 2022
The 2018 World Cup in Russia and the 2022 World Cup in Qatar have been marred by scandal since the beginning. People were shocked when they were chosen over bids such as England, Spain-Portugal, and the United States. Former Belgian star Marc Wilmots described the results as “Russia is a political choice and Qatar is an economic choice” .
Many have agreed with Wilmots and believe that both World Cups were bought. According to BBC’s Panorama, prior to the 2018 and 2022 voting, discoveries had already been made that four members on the voting committee had taken bribes in the 1990s . It would not be too far of a stretch to believe that they could have been bribed again. Two members were also suspended when The Sunday Times exposed them for trying to sell their votes . The first comic below touts that FIFA only chose countries with governments that are equivalently undemocratic and corrupt, which reiterates the corruption within FIFA itself.
Immediate controversies besides the corruption of FIFA also included problems with logistics of the actual World Cup itself. FIFA basically chose the “riskiest” host nations out of all the bids, according to FIFA’s own inspection team . Qatar is a tiny country and has summertime temperatures regularly reaching 120 degrees. FIFA has posed the possibility of moving the 2022 World Cup to the winter as a solution, but that would further disrupt TV, club, and players’ schedules that threaten loss of profits, lawsuits, and injury .
To top it off, recent controversies in both Russia and Qatar have brought up major concerns over the well-being and rights of both workers and citizens of both nations. Russia is hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, but recent anti-gay laws have tainted the Olympics’ credibility of equality , and lead many to wonder if this is a prelude to the 2018 World Cup. Qatar also has anti-gay laws, but considering that FIFA has the power to temporarily override national laws during World Cup (as previously mentioned in the case of 2010 South Africa), FIFA could force Russia and Qatar to temporarily suspend of the anti-gay laws during the World Cups . While that does not create any permanent solutions, it is still something to consider.
Additionally, accounts of horrific working conditions and forced labor leading to death in Qatar  has angered many who have outright suggested the possibility of moving the 2022 World Cup to the United States . Similarly in 2010, South African workers went on strike over terribly long hours and minimal pay . Unfortunately, the above comic is a social commentary of the awful irony that Qatari laborers, many whom do not have the ability to leave the country, are working in the deadly heat to build an air-conditioned stadium for FIFA. Although it is somewhat late for the 2018 World Cup to be moved, there is still plenty of time for the 2022 World Cup. In addition, if it were to be moved to the United States, the infrastructure is already in place, so the three-year delay would not be much of a concern. However, knowing FIFA’s history, they will likely come up with some excuse or another and delay the decision until it is too late to move the 2022 World Cup from Qatar.
In 2011, Sepp Blatter was reelected the president of FIFA for his fourth term with an overwhelming 186 of the 203 votes, but let’s not forget that he ran unopposed . How did this happen? As if on queue, his rival Mohamed Bin Hammam had stepped down after being suspended over bribery allegations . At that point it was a one-man show. Blatter knew that he just needed to hold the vote, and the election would be his.
England soccer officials tried to postpone the vote since Blatter would obviously win, but that idea was killed with a vote of 172 to 17 . So, the vote went forward and shockingly enough, Blatter won. This is clearly depicted in the comic above as Blatter, after receiving bribes in the envelope, re-elects himself since he is the only one present. What is bizarre about voting is that even if nations are dissatisfied with Blatter, they will still vote for him if he gives them what they want. The structure and policies of FIFA are quite complex , but the idea is that every nation has one vote. Many believe that votes are bought based on how FIFA treats certain regions. For example, Andrew Jennings believes that FIFA kept the 2010 World Cup in South Africa so that Blatter could be guaranteed the African votes .
Blatter and FIFA’s role in vote-buying is hazy at best. However, people are catching on. Lennart Johansson, a previous opponent of Blatter, publicly requested investigations into vote-buying during the 1998 election, in which Blatter beat Johansson 111 to 80 . Other people continue urging an in-depth internal investigation into the 2011 elections to determine whether Blatter exploited his position , but until anything is set in stone, Blatter will continue calling the shots until 2015. That is reflected in the comic immediately above, as Blatter is compared to historical rulers who could not, in their reigns, dominate the entire world the way that Blatter currently does.
In the midst of everything, FIFA has pulled its fair share of Big Brother moments in attempts at silencing its critics. The public has responded angrily to their restrictions, which has led FIFA to back down a bit. However with every World Cup, FIFA tries to limit the freedom of journalists. And each time it tries, FIFA only attracts negative attention towards itself.
During the week of World Press Freedom Day in 2006, investigative reporter Andrew Jennings published his book Foul!: The Secret World of FIFA: Bribes, Vote Rigging and Ticket Scandals, which FIFA had tried to ban from publication for months . FIFA called the book “false and libelous” in a press release, and somehow succeeded in banning the book from sale in Switzerland . FIFA’s attempts at hushing critique is symbolically expressed in the comic above with man’s eyes and mouth covered, so that he can neither see nor speak about what is happening around him.
FIFA supposedly supports freedom of press, but prior to the 2006 World Cup, the organization placed restrictions on digital publication of photographs during the World Cup and had a clause stating that news organizations “may not bring FIFA into disrepute” . The comic below represents FIFA’s media restrictions crushing the world’s freedom of press. For the most part, journalists ignored this during 2006. The World Association of Newspapers (WAN) finally challenged and convinced FIFA to write in a new clause relating to press freedom in 2009 . If it were not for WAN pressuring FIFA into a corner, it is doubtful that FIFA would have done anything.
Before the 2010 World Cup, South African journalists questioned FIFA’s press accreditation rules, which included that newspapers could not publish photographs or videos relating to events on their websites and that newspapers could not be sold within a radius of 800 meters around stadiums . Come Brazil 2014, journalists will likely once again question FIFA’s media regulations, and for good reason. If they do not push FIFA to change their restrictions, no one will.
Things are not looking so great for FIFA. Not that it ever has outside of its bank account. Despite the allegations and controversy, FIFA is still the major ruling body of international football and the FIFA World Cup is still one of the most anticipated events in the world. Regardless of everything, people continue to attend FIFA-sponsored events and FIFA will continue to make millions off its agreements with its sponsors.
FIFA does have something to worry about, though. If they are not careful, their legacy can be irreversibly tarnished. With the advent of the Internet and social media, it is becoming increasingly difficult for FIFA to hide behind its false do-good publicity stunts . People are becoming more and more vocal about the obvious corruption in FIFA, and there is nothing that FIFA can do to quiet them.
The thing is, FIFA does have the ability to be an actual force in change. It deals with more countries than the United Nations , and these countries are often more responsive to FIFA’s policy changes than to the U.N.’s. However, due to the track record of current FIFA officials, it seems that the only way things will change is with the inauguration of a new crop of officials.
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