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Throw FIFA out of the game; it has grown gangrenous



In Brazil, site of the 2014 World Cup, the FIFA-driven push to build new stadiums at a breakneck pace has led to the deaths of nine construction workers. FIFA's demands for security and infrastructure may end up displacing as many as 250,000 poor people.

Most people associate FIFA, the organization that oversees international soccer, with the quadrennial joy of the World Cup. But as the 2014 tournament begins in Brazil, FIFA is plagued by levels of corruption, graft and excess that would shame Silvio Berlusconi. Despite the palatial estates, private planes and pompous airs of FIFA's current leaders, the organisation actually has quite humble origins.

FIFA was founded in 1904 in Paris as a simple rule-making committee that aimed to regulate the guidelines for a new, rapidly expanding sport when played between nations.

Because it was founded in Paris, the organisation took its acronym, FIFA, from the French: Fédération Internationale de Football Association. What began as an effort to make sure that practices like punching one's opponents would not be seen as a legitimate part of the game, morphed over time into one of the most successful and disreputable organisations in the history of sports. FIFA's corruption has been such an open secret for so many years that when new reports emerge, they tend to provoke more eye-rolls than outrage. FIFA is supposed to police match-fixing, yet investigations revealed that only six people on its staff of 350 are responsible for that enforcement. It is supposed to monitor corruption, but it's not clear it does.  

The head of FIFA's own independent governance committee (which was recently disbanded) suggested holding a new vote for the right to host the 2022 World Cup.

And the European football federation's representatives to FIFA have threatened to protest against Sepp Blatter when he declares his intention this week to seek yet another term as FIFA's head. It's easy to be cynical about all of this, but cynicism is a luxury we can no longer afford.  Anyone paying attention to the myriad injustices emerging in the international soccer of the 21st century can see that the stakes are a great deal higher than whether a few palms are greased.
In Brazil, site of the 2014 World Cup, the FIFA-driven push to build new stadiums at a breakneck pace has led to the deaths of nine construction workers. FIFA's demands for security and infrastructure may end up displacing as many as 250,000 poor people, who live in the favelas surrounding Brazil's urban centres.  The cost of the games continues to tick upward, the latest figures climbing as high as $15 billion. Brazil's own 1994 World Cup star, Romário, called the 2014 tournament "the biggest heist in the history of Brazil."

For decades, FIFA has entered the nations of the world with all the subtlety of a wrecking ball causing catastrophic damage, and every four years it gets away with it.

As the Uruguayan journalist Eduardo Galeano wrote in his classic book "Soccer in Sun and Shadow," "There are visible and invisible dictators. The power structure of world football is monarchical. It's the most secret kingdom in the world."

Yet, for the first time, this secret kingdom is being dragged from the shadows. In Brazil, striking teachers, security guards, fire fighters and bus drivers are demanding "FIFA-quality wages."

Housing activists are occupying land and asking for "FIFA-quality homes" while nurses call for "FIFA-quality hospitals." Wherever FIFA shows up, as the World Cup approaches, protesters dog its every step.

As a friend in São Paulo told me, "FIFA is about as popular in Brazil as FEMA was after Hurricane Katrina."

Finally, the world is seeing FIFA for what it is: a stateless conglomerate that takes bribes while acting as a battering ram for world leaders who want to use the majesty of the World Cup to push through their development agendas at great human cost.

People don't have to be displaced and workers don't need to die for soccer. The World Cup can be staged in countries with existing stadiums and infrastructure.

Moreover, the secret bidding process for host countries must end so that soccer isn't abused for economic and political ends.

International soccer desperately needs two entirely distinct bodies. One would be in charge of monitoring and actually stopping corruption, bribery and match-fixing.

The other could be in charge, in the words of Blatter's predecessor, Havelange, of selling "a product called football."

The fact that one governing body is currently in charge of both the cash register and making sure no one is robbing the store is a recipe for graft. It is also a recipe for international soccer's eventually collapsing under the weight of its own problems with corruption. Yes, soccer is still unquestionably the most popular sport on the planet. But a cloistered, corrupt society like FIFA cannot function in a WikiLeaks world.

It is past time to abolish FIFA. It is like a gangrenous limb that requires amputation before the infection spreads and the beautiful game becomes decayed beyond all possible recognition. Soccer is worth saving. FIFA needs to take its ball and go home. - The New York Times News Service


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