By J Hutcherson (Jun 27, 2017) US Soccer Players – If anybody believes that Bild’s reveal of the full Garcia report and FIFA itself publishing it on their website is a transformative moment, that’s a setup for disappointment. FIFA knows what’s in the report that they released in an abridged addition a few years back. They’re well aware of how they can portray the revelations of bad actors and what looks from the outside like systemic corruption. FIFA as an entity has gotten good at that. It’s why FIFA the organization remains the victim.
That’s how the United States Department of Justice investigation is operating. A basic premise is that FIFA is the victim of bad actors, elected and appointed personnel betraying organizational trust for their own individual gains. If you’re wondering when there are enough bad actors to indict the organization as a whole, well that hasn’t happened yet. There’s ample indications that it never will. That’s the monumental change the organization may never face. It doesn’t mean that FIFA is free and clear, however.
FIFA faces the same existential threats as the rest of world soccer it governs. There’s the threat of another sports rights collapse, this one far worse and broader than the one that threatened the organization’s finances in the early 2000s. Sports rights fees don’t make sense. There are plenty of charts happy to show that they don’t sync with subscriber numbers or ratings in some of the markets subsidizing the sport. There’s the growing concern that cable, the biggest driver for these fees in most markets, has its own existential issues to consider.
There’s the threat of sponsors not wanting a high priced connection with FIFA as a brand. That’s the main fallout from a business standpoint with the FIFA scandals. Some brands moved on, leaving FIFA to find adequate replacements while dealing with budgetary issues. The World Cup summer normally fixes those problems, but it can be a long time between the end of one World Cup and the beginning of another.
There’s the threat that the elite European clubs go their own way, something that wouldn’t just affect UEFA’s power structure. The old ultimatum of declaring a breakaway league outlawed and banning players from international soccer might not mean much if that outlaw league had the biggest names in the game. It would take amazing myopia even by FIFA standards for them not to see that.
What isn’t as threatening is how their own bad actors acted revamping FIFA’s schedule. They committed to a 2022 World Cup in a part of the world that can only reasonably host it outside of the traditional summer window. They knew what that would mean for the clubs and their leagues in the most lucrative markets in the world. They also had a pretty good idea of the message those hosting choices would send to the rest of the world. They did it anyway.
FIFA personnel had to realize that selecting Russia for 2018 and Qatar for 2022 would raise issues they would spend considerable time defending. It would immediately become a problem, though it’s fair enough to think FIFA personnel didn’t expect it to turn into a crisis. Still, their decision never wavered. In fact, given multiple opportunities to reconsider they never publicly entertained the idea. From an organizational standpoint, they may have left themselves with no choice. It’s not just the bad actors, accusations of votes for bribes, and criticism of a flawed process. It’s that to backtrack denies FIFA its basic authority. They govern world soccer. Part of that means picking World Cup hosts.
So FIFA doubled down on two unpopular decisions. It would’ve been easier from a public perception perspective to change their minds. Even with massive outside pressure, fissures within their own organization, and raids carried out to arrest key members, the decisions announced on December 2, 2010 stayed put.
A different FIFA administration with a different setup publicly embraced transparency. Reform became the agenda, even if it’s a fair criticism that it’s reform on FIFA’s terms. Again, it’s the organization responding to the risk of bad actors. It’s not deciding that a better future for all involved requires a complete overhaul of how to govern world soccer. with that in mind, it seems highly unlikely that an internal report now made public in full will change that. What’s also worth asking is if it should.
J Hutcherson started covering soccer in 1999 and has worked as the general manager of the US National Soccer Team Players Association since 2002. Contact him at email@example.com.
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