On Monday, it was announced that Dutch football president Michael van Praag will challenge Sepp Blatter for the position of President of FIFA. Praag’s announcement comes after a years of drama and controversy within the international football body. Most controversial has been the decision to hold the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, and the subsequent vehement devotion to that plan despite numerous grievances about human rights violations, quasi-slave labor and extreme temperatures in the region. According to a report in The Guardian, Nepalese migrant workers in Qatar died at a rate of 1 every 2 days in 2014 due to extreme and unsafe working conditions. These deaths raise serious questions about Qatar’s suitability as host of a tournament that has traditionally been played in the hot summer months.
Blatter and the rest of FIFA have been accused of corruption on numerous instances. In 2014, reports surfaced claiming that Blatter and other FIFA officials took over $4.5 million in bribes to give the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. These reports seem to explain the otherwise illogical choice of Qatar as a host country. Why else other than financial interest would FIFA choose to host its biggest tournament in a country where summer temperatures average over 110 degrees Farenheit, alcohol is prohibited, and there’s a history of human rights offenses? The rationale seems absurd without accounting for underlying corruption. When one considers that Qatar has the highest GDP per capita of any country in the world by a wide margin, the possibility of corruption becomes even more apparent. Of course, the wealth of a nation does not necessarily indicate guilt, but this information, taken along with the reports of corruption and the unsuitable match-playing conditions, suggests strongly that there is foul play involved.
The main goal of van Praag’s campaign is to fix the corruption that pervades FIFA today. Van Praag believes that FIFA needs to restore its credibility and return its focus to fostering the growth and development of football as an international game. FIFA has more members than the UN, and its political influence is paramount. However, the corruption within is so deeply entrenched, that it remains unlikely that any real change will come any time soon. Van Praag’s campaign principles are of dire importance for the sport, yet the corruption ingrained in the organization may prevent these goals from being realized.