Planet FIFA is a documentary (currently on Netflix) that gives us a glimpse into the world of corruption that has become synonymous with FIFA. Notorious for its immense power and exploitation, FIFA is an organization which has been responsible for the world of football as we know it. This documentary opens with a history of the inception of what came to be known as the Fédération Internationale de Football Association. FIFA was born in a small apartment in the interior courtyard of 229 rue Saint-Honoré, Paris in 1904, consisting of an exclusive group of a few European countries. However, the first big mark to be made on international Football was to happen when a Frenchman is elected to its presidency: Jules Rimet. Nicknamed “The White Mouse,” Rimet had come up with an idea that would change football forever: he proposed the idea for a World Cup. To his despair, there was already an international football competition organized by the Olympics, who opposed the idea of a World Cup as football was one of their greatest assets. In an attempt to hush Rimet, the Olympic Committee had given FIFA the authority to organize the football competition within the Olympics. Under FIFA’s reign, football grew to amass 28 competitors and unprecedented spectatorship, beating that of all other sports combined. This gave Rimet the drive to cut ties with the International Olympic Committee in 1930, and create his own FIFA World Cup.
In 1932, FIFA moves its headquarters to Zurich, Switzerland, with the apparent claim of being in a central and easily accessible location in Europe. However, the truth of the matter was that FIFA was in financial despair at the time and the period preceding the second World War was notable for its monetary instability. Switzerland’s stable currency meant that FIFA could capitalize on this opportunity and retain as much of their funds as possible.
Perhaps FIFA’s first major controversy occurred when Stanley Rous took over as president of FIFA. Being a rather close-minded individual, he believed that the World Cup should be a predominantly European affair, giving Africa, Asia and Oceania only one spot in the World Cup to be competed for by one of those continents. As expected, some of these countries responded with outrage and boycotted the World Cup. To his misfortune, this set the stage for a more open-minded individual to overtake him. Leading up to the next FIFA election, a Brazilian by the name of Joao Havelange was the first candidate with a non-Eurocentric mentality. He capitalized on Rous’s weaknesses and focused on two major areas: Africa and the Soviet Union. With Rous having angered many delegations from these two areas, Havelange found it easy to travel to those areas and pledge allegiance to their cause for the price of a vote. He paid money from his own pocket (for fees necessary to participate as delegations in FIFA) so that he would have the votes of poorer African countries, and promised the USSR to host the World Cup for their votes. His election was a shoo-in. In 1974, he became president for what would be the second-longest in FIFA history.
Havelange’s election undoubtedly played a huge part in shaping modern-day football, notably into a multi-billion-dollar business. Soon after his election, Horst Dassler (the then-leader of Adidas) pledged allegiance to Havelange, and for this quid pro quo act, Adidas literally became the uniform of football. For over a decade, Adidas was sold exclusive sponsorship rights by FIFA with no written contract, only by word of mouth. This meant that nobody knew just how much money FIFA was taking in. Furthermore, this period of history meant that television was on the rise in unprecedented rates. Football was becoming more and more accessible everywhere around the globe. Havelange, focused on generating revenue, demanded that the rights to broadcast FIFA matches must be bought by television channels. This opened the door for generating immense revenue, and what would become the beginning of their corrupt nature. To attract even more money, Havelange went to other global businesses and asked for sponsorships. Notably, he was able to gain the sponsorship of Coca-Cola, who was the biggest brand in the world at the time.
Being a rather intelligent man, Dassler capitalized on the high demand for televised football and founded International Sport and Leisure (ISL) in 1982. ISL was created to act as an intermediary between FIFA and other TV stations around the world. They would buy the televising rights from FIFA and sell them to TV stations for a commission, from which they would profit heavily. A grand chapter in FIFA’s history of corruption stems with these televising rights issues. With Dassler and Havelange being so buddy-buddy, it was difficult for other companies to win over televising rights from FIFA. In 1995, IMG had offered an extraordinary two billion Swiss Francs (one billion per World Cup) to replace ISL, but FIFA’s close ties with Dassler meant that they didn’t even respond to their lucrative offer. It was at this point that it became transparent to the world that FIFA was an organization riddled with rigged bidding and bribery. Had the company been interested solely in its own financial benefit, they would have given rights to the highest bidder, but under-the-table transactions between Dassler and Havelange meant that as long as the leaders of these organizations were profiting, rights would not go to the highest bidder. As if that wasn’t bad enough, ISL later testified (in a trial) to giving 135 million in bribes to senior sporting officials, including Havelange. Quite stupidly, they had made the mistake of sending one of those bribes to FIFA instead of Havelange’s personal bank account. FIFA tried to cover this up, but it was too late and the world had found out about FIFA’s corrupt nature. Many suspect that Havelange had pocketed tens of millions from kickbacks, particularly by ISL.
Following these allegations, Havelange hired a right-hand man that would become even more famous for corruption allegations: Sepp Blatter, who would later succeed Havelange as president of FIFA. Following this early history, Planet FIFA goes on to discuss Blatter’s involvement in the corruption that has become synonymous with FIFA. For more on FIFA’s fairly recent corruption scandals, you can watch the following Last Week Tonight with John Oliver segments, which provide a look at those serious issues in a more humorous light: