Can FIFA survive?

May 29, 2011

FIFA, the governing body for football (or soccer as we call it in my home countries of the U.S. and Japan), has been in the spotlight lately for corruption.  I once noted to my students in class that FIFA is probably the second most corrupt governing body in sport after the International Olympic Committee (IOC).  I might have to retract this statement after the latest round of corruption and allegations which have come out.  In a previous post I noted the potential scandal of buying votes to choose the host for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.  The newest round of scandal has occurred because of the election race for the Presidency of FIFA.  Current FIFA President Sepp Blatter is running for re-election, his opponent in this election is Mohamed Bin Hammam who is a FIFA vice-president and the head of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).  As the election approached there was some talk of Bin Hammam having bribed people to vote for him, Bin Hammam said that Blatter was doing the same thing, CONCACAF head Jack Warner(who is also a FIFA vice-president as well) was also indicated in the whole mess.  Details indicate that Warner handed out $40,000 bundles of cash to Caribbean Football members at a meeting, Blatter is accused of giving a million dollars to CONCACAF for them to “use as they please.”

FIFA’s ethics panel examined the cases of these three individuals.  Bin Hammam, who had already pulled out of the running for FIFA President because of this incident, was suspended from football related activities along with Jack Warner.  Their ban is a temporary one, which could be lifted or made longer pending the further findings of the ethics panel.  Sepp Blatter, on the other hand, was let off free without any sanctions.  The suspicions of whether the ethics panel can be trusted is already being widely discussed.  Bin Hammam and Warner have also hit out against their suspensions.  Bin Hammam stated:

“…I also indicated that at the Miami CONCACAF Congress on May 3rd, Mr. Blatter made a gift of one million USD to CONCACAF to spend as it deems fit. This annoyed President Michel Platini who was present and he approached Secretary General Jerome Valcke complaining that Mr Blatter had no permission from the Finance Committee to make this gift to which Jerome replied that he will find the money for Mr Blatter.

So, what is the aftermath?  FIFA is supposedly paying more attention to corruption (so they claim), and Sepp Blatter will most likely be elected to serve as the ruler of FIFA yet again.  As a friend of mine noted, this seems like something you would expect from a dictatorship.  That same friend in the comments to a previous post noted that he thinks that some countries should break away from FIFA and start a new federation.

Former IOC vice-president Dick Pound has now made similar statements, basically noting that countries may form a break away association if FIFA doesn’t handle this mess quickly.  Sort of ironic hearing that from a former IOC official.

So can FIFA survive?  I think they can.  I think Blatter will be back in charge ruling with an iron fist and claiming more transparency.  However, FIFA is not in the clear, if anything more and more questions are being raised, and I can imagine a lot of angry countries who lost out on the World Cup bidding process wanting some form of retribution.  I’ll be interested to see how this saga continues.


How to buy the World Cup

May 11, 2011

The Sunday Times has given evidence to an MP claiming that several FIFA members accepted $1.5 million from Qatar.  Clearly the implication is that these FIFA members were paid by Qatar to vote for them to host the 2022 World Cup.  The two individuals specifically named in the Sunday Times evidence include FIFA vice-president Issa Hayatou from Cameroon and Jacques Anouma from the Ivory Coast.  Additionally Lord Triesman, former chairman of the FA accused four FIFA executive members for asking for gifts in return for their votes for the 2018 World Cup hosting rights.

This isn’t the first time, nor the last time that FIFA will be accused of corruption.  That there may be evidence implicating the 2nd in charge of FIFA of taking bribe money is a big deal in my opinion.  Nothing is proved at the moment, but these allegations can not be taken lightly.

World Cup Decision: Anger and Frustration

December 3, 2010

Let the recriminations begin.  Yesterday, Russia was awarded the 2018 World Cup, with England’s bid being eliminated at the first stage.  Vladimir Putin has described the vote and decision as “fair”, and I’m sure it is in his eyes.  Just not in the rest of the world’s eyes.

In somewhat similar conditions, the US also lost out for the 2022 World Cup to Qatar.  In both situations it seems clear: The best bid did not win.  It seems also clear that large quantities of money were involved.  Clearly, Qatar could throw a huge amount of money at their bid and did, as could Russia.  In both cases, another host would have provided a more lucrative profitable World Cup for FIFA.

As can be inferred thus far from this post, the outcome has left a huge amount of questions unanswered – as Declan Hill is pointing at.  How is it that the most profitable, commercially successful bid crashed out at the first stage for 2018?  Most of the England entourage have pointed at something: The total lack of integrity of FIFA members voting.  They’ll say yes to your face, but when voting it’s a different story.  Moreover, it is coincidence that the country from which two exposes of FIFA’s corrupt nature originated got just two votes from 22?

I’m personally not all that disappointed England didn’t get the World Cup.  I’m not sure how much I really wanted it.  But it’s fair to say it would have been, along with the other European bidders, the World Cup leaving the least White Elephants (Qatar, incredibly enough, plans on exporting its stadia to better uses after the tournament – and air condition when while in the desert – it is nice to see how much FIFA is concerned about the environment), since all stadia would have been the homes of English football clubs.  And therein lies a huge issue yet again unanswered for by FIFA’s unaccountable committees.  Stadia still lie barely used in Japan and South Korea after 2002, and I wonder what the legacy is for the stadia in South Africa now the world has left.  Yet FIFA commits itself to a load more such stadia in Russia, and wherever the Qatari stadia end up.

Then: The positive spin of course is that new places get to see the World Cup.  Wasn’t it nice to have it in Africa in the summer?  And won’t it be lovely to have it in mafia land in 2018, and in the desert (where alcohol is banned amongst other things natural to the football fan).  Sarcasm aside, it is nice to spread the tournament around, but this leaves, along with the legacy issue, another big and frustrating issue.  Why didn’t FIFA make this abundantly clear before the bidding began?  Why did it let old, established nations (which I think the US has to belong to in football terms these days) waste so much money on bidding if it was all in vain?  As this Guardian piece makes clear, David Cameron could have instead been back in the UK making important decisions, and perhaps not closing quite so many school sports programmes as part of the austerity his party is foistering onto the UK.

It’s been mooted for years (as the first page of Declan Hill’s ‘The Fix’ makes clear) that FIFA is unaccountable and corrupt and the biggest upshot of all this has to be that the institution needs reforming.  As it stands it continues to drive football fans to despair the world over yet has no incentive to actually take their views into account – instead taking bribes and saying one thing to one person and another to another and making corrupt decisions affecting billions worldwide.  How long must we endure this?

Corruption again

July 17, 2010

On Friday FIFA boldly announced it had made a number of arrests in Asia related to football betting.  However, ever on the ball (excuse the pun) when it comes to corruption, Declan Hill swiftly commented to restore a sense of contempt for FIFA and its attempts to address corruption in the worldwide game.  In what can only be seen as an encouraging move, the BBC also gave air to Declan’s comments too.

It appears it’s all a game: Some low level players in the corruption ring are arrested so that the police and FIFA get to look good and people get off their backs for a bit.  It seems like some tacit game that is played: The big players get to carry on just as before provided they let a few small players be knocked off every now and again.

The main issue is that gambling on sports events is illegal in vast parts of Asia – and hence Hill compares the current situation to the prohibition-era United States, where the mafia and organised crime got its fillip.  The organised gambling market in Asia was estimated to be worth $450bn in 2006 and one only wonders how big it is now.

And of course, these arrests will change nothing: Willing punters all over Asia will carry on betting on matches illegally.  Of course, if it was just the betting itself, that wouldn’t be too bad.  It’s the fact that matches are rigged also.  We only wait to see the extent of rigging of matches in Europe, but it certainly seems that low level matches are targetted – a Macedonian team was recently banned for 8 years by UEFA for their part in rigging matches.

More on Corruption

June 8, 2010

Declan Hill, author of the excellent book The Fix, is an authoritative writer on corruption in football (soccer) and writes the blog How to Fix a Soccer Game.  Following up on my post from yesterday about corruption involving the building of the Giraffe Stadium in South Africa, Declan makes a number of very important points in this blog post.

Many of the teams participating from poorer nations, those teams that perhaps we all have a soft spot for, are almost certainly the most likely targets for corruption.  Honduras is mentioned because most of the players for that team play in the domestic league and are paid, in relative terms, pittance – and nothing much has happened since they managed to qualify for the World Cup.  South Africa’s players even, it seems, are the last to be paid, and their pay from their FA is anything but certain.

It is fairly standard common sense/economic theory that if the punishment is low (you aren’t losing much in terms of pay!), you are more likely to undertake criminal activities.  Thus you imagine the ridiculously over-paid England stars won’t be the targets for corruption, but the players for many poor African nations (Cameroon’s national team has gone on strike in the past during a World Cup) and other poor nations like Honduras will be much more susceptible targets to the criminal groups descending on South Africa right now.

My apologies if you like to think of football as a nice, pure sport where everything is what it seems and I’ve just spoilt this by linking up Declan’s fine work!

He’s also on twitter if you’re that way inclined and want quick updates during the World Cup…

Corruption Surrounding the World Cup?

June 7, 2010

Surely not!

The BBC reports on the building of the stadium in Mbombela, and suggests there’s some rather disturbing stuff going on – suspicious deaths, no less. The suggestion is that the tender process for building the stadium was rigged in some way.

Moreover, the report documents the abject poverty that still appears to exist even within the shadows of the stadium – guess we may not have too many blimps taking live TV pictures from up in the air when the games take place then? This is of course very important: What improvement has come about for these local residents who still don’t have running water it seems? Millions has been spent on this stadium, and for what use after the coming month?

It would seem that not even the excuse of a big tournament has allowed the necessary investment in infrastructure often touted as a reason for hosting tournaments…

Corruption in Sport

February 26, 2010

I’d forgotten until this morning my very interesting experiences of Declan Hill, who was studying for a PhD in Oxford while I was there. I don’t know exactly what he’s doing right now, but he’s writing an excellent blog, and having his book on match fixing globally published in many languages. His blog is well worth a read to anyone interested in the integrity of sport.

Taiwanese Government Trying to Buy a Win.

January 2, 2010

2009 was a bad year for baseball in Taiwan.  The year began with Taiwan getting slammed 9-0 by South Korea in the Asia qualification games for the World Baseball Classic (WBC).  Things got worse when Taiwan were beat by their arch rival China (appearing in the WBC for the first time) in a game in the Tokyo Dome.  Baseball, is the national sport in Taiwan, and the country seemed to regain some pride when they placed 2nd in the Little League World Series this year.  However, things in the professional game has become worse and worse.  Reuters reports that Taiwan has 102 cases of illegal baseball betting in 2008, and the professional league (named the Chinese Professional Baseball League) has seen a 45% decline in reported attendance over the last five years.  The league seems on the verge of collapse, after having gone from 6 teams in 2008 to 4 teams in 2009.

With the national sport dying, Taiwanese President Ma Ying-Jeou (picture to the right) has stepped in to do something.  It was announced that the government will be injecting $60 million (U.S.) into the professional league, in the hopes of bringing better talent into the game, as well as provide incentives for youth to continue to play the game.  So President Ma is hoping to turn things around, with what is basically a giant subsidy for professional baseball in his country.  It is also a reaction to protests which occurred in November, when 800 baseball fans took to the streets of the capital city of Taipei to protest the corruption in professional baseball in the league.  President Ma took the protests so seriously, that he has not only given $60 million for the four year program, but has also held a National Baseball Conference, as well as assembled a task force with cabinet members to help bring back baseball’s popularity in the country.

UEFA Investigating Match Fixing

September 27, 2009

uefa_logoThe BBC reported on Friday that UEFA is currently investigating 40 matches played over the past four years as part of the UEFA Cup/Europa League competition that appear to have been fixed.  Most of the matches took place during qualifying play and involved clubs from Eastern Europe.  Fifteen of the matches took place in the last two seasons.  The report indicates that both the halftime and full time scores appeared to be fixed.  That is a large number of matches, and even though they involved low profile teams from countries like Macedonia, the UEFA Cup/Europa League is a high profile pan-European tournament.  The article contains an interesting quote hinting at the financial incentives driving this behavior.  UEFA head of disciplinary services Peter Limacher said of the clubs accused of match fixing: “They know they are not going to be involved later in the tournament and they are going out, so decide, ‘Let’s make a profit’.”

Economic theory tells us that successful contests, either at the horse track or on the football pitch, consist of relatively evenly matched opponents, increasing uncertainty of outcome and fan interest.  Widespread match fixing reduces uncertainty of outcome and also erodes fans’ confidence in the legitimacy of the contest.  It appears that UEFA may need to rethink the design of this contest, given the negative incentives that are being created in the qualifying stage.  It also appears that some of the participating teams may be taking a relatively short-sighted approach to their financial decision making.  Match fixing involves a trade-off between a short run financial windfall (whatever the club earns from fixing the matches) and a potentially large, permanent cost if the club gets caught fixing the match.

Corruption, Snooker and Betfair

August 27, 2009

The BBC reports that two snooker players, Stephen Maguire and Jamie Burnett, were arrested as part of an investigation into corruption in a snooker match between them. They were both later released without charge, but it appears action is hotting up in the investigation into the match between the two, which ended 9-3 to Maguire back in December 2008.

In the match, Burnett missed a simple black to make the score 8-4 in the final frame of the match, leaving Maguire to pot the ball and win 9-3. Betfair took vast amounts of bets on a 9-3 scoreline, with next to nothing on a 9-2 or 9-4 score, prompting suspicion.

As has probably been mentioned on this blog, snooker is a sport more susceptible to corruption, like tennis, than football, soccer or other team sport, because the principal seeking to influence outcomes only need access one or at most two agents, so to speak. For a player low down in the rankings, the carrot of a large bribe to throw a match is likely to prove particularly tempting. We shall have to wait and see how the trial develops…


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