The fact that Qatar is hosting the 2022 FIFA Men’s World Cup has sparked a fair amount of anger and confusion. Why, many have wondered, was the tournament awarded to a country with such a poor record on human rights in general and LGBTQ+ rights in particular?
Allegations of corruption within the process by which Qatar was awarded the tournament have also been widely discussed. However, with all the heat that Qatar is taking, there is a danger that proven corruption at FIFA and subsequent failure to reform will not receive the attention it deserves.
Two outside investigations – one by Swiss prosecutors and the other by the US Department of Justice (DoJ) – have investigated allegations of extortion, bank fraud and money laundering by people in and around FIFA.
The Swiss investigations focused in particular on fraud, mismanagement and misappropriation of FIFA funds by senior FIFA officials. Numerous cases are pending and several people have been convicted, although former FIFA President Sepp Blatter and Vice President Michael Platini were acquitted (following an eight-year ban from professional football by FIFA). Qatari football manager and minister Nasser al-Khelaïfi was also acquitted in the Swiss corruption trial.
The DoJ’s focus was more on the distribution of media rights, bribery and money laundering. The US inquiry has examined the behavior of FIFA officials for decades. More than 50 individual and corporate defendants have been charged with criminal charges, primarily in connection with alleged bribes and the laundering of those payments. Four companies and 27 people pleaded guilty to various charges of bribery and money laundering.
Several people have been convicted, others acquitted, and a number of cases are still pending, largely involving those challenging extradition to the US. The DoJ subsequently seized more than US$201 million (£170 million) from the accounts of former officials implicated in the corruption schemes.
The DoJ has also charged three officials with taking bribes for awarding World Cup titles to Russia and Qatar. Two are now dead and the third, Brazilian Ricardo Teixeira, cannot be extradited. He denies all allegations, but has been banned from professional football for life by FIFA over allegations of taking bribes in connection with South American competitions.
Those directly involved in steering Qatar’s bid have always denied doing anything wrong. Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy has argued: “Despite years of false claims, no evidence has ever been produced to show that Qatar won the rights to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup in an unethical manner or in a manner that violated with FIFA’s strict bidding rules.”
What counts as corruption?
As I argued in my book Analyzing Corruption, there will never be a universal consensus on what corruption is. One’s smart political deal is another’s act of corruption. A good starting point for understanding where corruption begins and ends is to pay attention to four things.
First, corruption is intentional. No one is accidentally corrupted. Corruption is not an act of maladministration. It happens the way people want it to happen.
Second, corruption is a form of abuse. To determine where “abuse” begins and ends, we need to be clear about what the rules of engagement are. We need to know what a particular feature specification says. Only then can we be sure that someone has moved on in making decisions.
Third, corruption is about entrusted power. That power can come through the ballot box (politicians) or through appointment (civil servants or Fifa officials, for example).
Finally, there must be some form of personal gain. There has to be an output – be it money, reputation or services rendered – that otherwise would not have come.
All of those four points can (and indeed are) contested. But as a starter for ten, they still provide a framework for understanding the often complex processes.
Using this definition, there is no clear behavior that directly links Qatar’s bid to corruption in securing the right to the 2022 World Cup. There is even an argument that the Qataris – like the Russians (2018), Brazilians ( 2014), South Africans (2010) and Germans (2006) – simply following the rules and indeed the logic underlying those rules.
Michael Garcia, a former US attorney, while conducting an independent ethics review of the bidding process, pointed out that those who ran the Qatar operation may have pushed these rules to the limit. However, they were arguably very good at playing Fifa’s game. The rules may have been inappropriate or morally reprehensible, but that doesn’t corrupt Qatari behavior.
As the Swiss and US investigations show, a significant number of FIFA representatives have deliberately abused their entrusted positions of power for personal gain. In these cases, all four of the aforementioned corruption criteria have been met. Take the two former officials convicted in 2017, Juan Ángel Napout from Paraguay, a former vice president of FIFA, and José Maria Marin, the former head of the Brazilian Football Federation.
Napout was forced to surrender $3.3 million in bribes received and fined $1 million. He was found guilty of conspiratorial racketeering and two counts of wire fraud conspiracy. Marin was sentenced to four years in prison, a $1.2 million fine and a $3.3 million forfeiture.
Then there are those awaiting sentencing, such as former FIFA councilor Luis Bedoya, who was found guilty of wire transfer fraud and bribery conspiracy. Bedoya pleaded guilty in November 2015, but his sentencing is still delayed.
There are more potential lawsuits, the most obvious being that of another former FIFA Vice President, Jack Warner. The DoJ alleges Warner was given $5 million through various shell companies to vote for Russia to host the 2018 World Cup and continues to try to extradite him from Trinidad to the US. Warner denies all allegations of wrongdoing.
Where is FIFA going now?
While there is evidence of corruption within FIFA, the organizational culture nevertheless seems to remain largely the same. FIFA established a series of new institutions in 2012 to oversee its work. However, at the height of its corruption cases in 2017, it fired the independent chairmen of the ethics committee’s investigative and adjudication divisions and the chairman of its governance committee. Those firings subsequently prompted several remaining members of these committees to resign in protest.
The two ousted presidents stated that they were investigating hundreds of corruption cases that would be delayed for years and that their removal “neutralized” and “incapacitated” FIFA’s corruption investigations.
The bodies still exist, but they don’t have anything like the wider impact that had been hoped for. This is reflected in cases where FIFA has since taken no action or position on clear ethical violations, such as Russia’s ban from participating in the Olympics due to doping violations.
This lack of change could very well be because FIFA has argued that it is a victim of corruption, not its source. In a statement released when Napout and Marin were sentenced, FIFA claimed it “strongly supports and encourages the efforts of US authorities to hold accountable those individuals who have abused their positions and corrupted international football for their own personal win”.
But it seems that even as those accused of corruption leave, FIFA needs a cultural shift towards greater transparency and accountability. In researching FIFA’s response to corruption, my colleague Will Heaston and I have argued that its leaders have failed to understand the issues they face. As such, FIFA has found it very difficult to embrace meaningful reform.
FIFA will likely try to work its way through the 2022 tournament before focusing on what will be a less controversial 2026 event in North America. It will also focus its attention on its various other money-making activities. However, it should not be allowed to continue without making meaningful institutional changes in the face of entrenched corruption, lest it happen again.
FIFA did not respond to a request for comment.
Daniel Hough, professor of politics, University of Sussex
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
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