December 10, 2023

In corruption debacle, FIFA satirizes itself while further besmirching the beautiful

PutinBlatterBy Sam Laird From Mashable

It reads like something from a Monty Python sketch, but this is real life — or, at least, what passes for reality in the warped universe of FIFA Land.

In sum: The ethics of FIFA’s report on its much-anticipated report on ethics regarding the bidding for the 2018 and 2022 editions of the World Cup are being challenged by the investigator hired to assess said ethics in the report that FIFA would summarize for the soccer-loving world at large.

Confused? We’ll explain. But for now, know this: The convoluted, twisted and barely coherent sentence above actually makes sense, and summarizes a complete farce of an investigation in which FIFA somehow managed to out-FIFA itself.

Here’s the backstory. The bidding processes for the 2018 World Cup, which will be in Russia, and the 2022 World Cup, which will be in Qatar, have been tainted by allegations of corruption since those two events were awarded in 2010.

The Qatar bid, corruption claims aside, is a particular head-scratcher, mainly because temperatures in Qatar soar well over 100 degres Fahrenheit during the summer, and you can’t play soccer in that kind of heat. Potential fixes that have been bandied about include playing games in the middle of the night (LOL what), building artificial clouds to shade stadiums during games (um, OK) and moving the 2022 World Cup to winter, in the middle of the club soccer season (heresy).

So, after mounting pressure to clean up its act and address corruption claims head-on, FIFA appointed former U.S. attorney Michael Garcia to investigate corruption allegations and deliver a report. Garcia spent two years investigating, and the result was a 350-page document summarizing his findings.

But FIFA said it would not publicly release Garcia’s report; instead, a different FIFA ethics committee member named Hans-Joachim Eckert released a 42-page summery of Garcia’s report on Thursday.

There’s just one problem — or at least one really big problem: Garcia released a statement on Thursday saying that Eckert’s summary “contains numerous materially incomplete and erroneous representations of the facts and conclusions detailed in the Investigatory Chamber’s report. I intend to appeal this decision to the FIFA Appeal Committee.”

OK, so we have: One of the guys FIFA put in charge of monitoring FIFA’s ethics accusing another guy FIFA put in charge of monitoring FIFA ethics with being, well … unethical.

That’s beyond farcical, but many more things about Eckert’s summary veer well into satire territory. For example:

People responsible for the Russia 2018 bid seriously used, as Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl perfectly put it, the “dog-ate-my-homework” excuse. They said all the computers containing documents and other materials of interest had been accidentally destroyed. Eckert’s summary of Garcia’s report relayed no major wrongdoings from the Russian bid.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter will not issue any statement on the report, according to the Wall Street Journal, despite the fact that his leadership is criticized in it, and that he’s widely seen as representative of the corruption plaguing FIFA as a whole.

Eckert’s report on Garcia’s report did acknowledge “potentially problematic conduct” from certain officials, but he declined to name many of those officials. Meanwhile, the Associated Press quotes an anonymous inside source as saying “some of the harshest criticism in the (Garcia) report is aimed at the (FIFA) executive committee, and beyond those named selectively in Eckert’s report.”

Eckert’s report on Garcia’s report doesn’t even mention the slave labor allegedly helping to build Qatar’s 2022 infrastructure, which hundreds of migrant workers have already died doing. Yes, Garcia’s investigation was about the bidding process to award the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, not what has happened since, but still: You’d think this deserved at least a minor footnote in Eckert’s report on Garcia’s report. (Yes, hello, this is the Department of Redundancy Department speaking.)

The FBI, meanwhile, is reportedly “stepping up” its own investigation of corruption within FIFA.

At the 2014 World Cup in Brazil this summer, much of FIFA’s operations were headquartered at Rio de Janeiro’s iconic Forte de Copacabana and the Sofitel luxury hotel located just across Avenida Atlântica. It was a glitzy setup that befitted much of the entitlement, self-aggrandizement and overly opulent behavior of which FIFA’s top level executives and their associates have long been accused.

But many of the people working there struck me as interesting for a wholly different reason. Dozens of men and women from around the world worked tirelessly to deliver scores, highlights and other content to FIFA’s millions of social media followers.

These weren’t the corporate oligarchs; they were the wage earners. They were soccer fans working diligently to deliver the game they loved to the fans who love that same game. It struck me as unfair that these devoted fans of the game had their own work stained by executives several rungs up the ladder.

But the scene there also seemed indicative of the bigger picture here: A small cabal comprised of top FIFA executives and their associates doing the rest of the soccer-loving world — which is to say, much of the world — a tremendous disservice.

After Thursday’s release of Eckert’s report on Garcia’s report, one thing is more certain than ever: Change isn’t coming to FIFA — at least from within — anytime soon.


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