Soccer is in a state of global crisis although its hapless leaders insist nothing is amiss. Even after a series of devastating scandals, FIFA, international soccer’s governing body, hasn’t cleaned up its act. In an age of increasing organizational transparency, FIFA is a dinosaur: the minutes of their most important meetings are kept secret. They refuse to open their account books to the public or reveal the exact salaries of their insular bureaucracy. They have failed to create an independent ethics board and routinely punish serious offenders with small fines and short suspensions.
In October, a sting operation by the Sunday Times caught two FIFA executive committee members asking for bribes in exchange for supporting America’s World Cup bid. In December, top-ranking members of FIFA, including the president of the African federation, were accused of rigging a vote to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar (though the whistleblower who made the claims recently withdrew her allegations, saying she had “fabricated” them after being fired by the Qatari World Cup bid committee).
Then, in May, Mohamed bin Hamman, the chief of the Asian federation and a candidate for FIFA’s presidency, was found to have given cash-stuffed envelopes to members of the North American federation, CONCACAF, with the help of its then president Jack Warner, who was also involved in an embezzlement scandal at the 2006 World Cup. Mr. Hamman had to withdraw his candidacy, meaning the incumbent, Sepp Blatter, ran unopposed and won. On June 20th, Mr. Warner, a former acting Prime Minister of Trinidad, resigned from his position with CONCACAF and his FIFA vice-presidency. FIFA immediately ended its ethics investigation, saying they had no further cause to continue given that Mr. Warner was no longer associated with FIFA. Of course.
But the mess extends far beyond the smoky backrooms of FIFA. Major leagues all across the world have been rocked by allegations of corruption: In May, a Napoli court found that Inter Milan were just as culpable as fellow giants AC Milan, Juventus, Lazio and Fiorentina in Italy’s “calciopoli” scandal of several years ago. The teams involved were found guilty of fixing matches and bribing referees. Juventus were relegated and had their 2005 and 2006 titles revoked. Italy’s federation has so far refused to act against Inter.
In Turkey, authorities have arrested 30 people, including the presidents of major clubs Fenerbahce and Trabzonspor and a former chief of the national federation. 55 professional players have been indicted for match-fixing in South Korea while a dozen people have been accused of similar crimes in a growing scandal in Finland. According to the New York Times, serious investigations are also underway in Germany, Hungary, Israel, El Salvador, China, Thailand, Zimbabwe and Vietnam. The most bizarre case involved a Singaporean gambler sending a “fake” Togo national team to play Bahrain in a friendly in September.
Greece is in the most trouble of all. Prosecutors have indicted 84 people, including the presidents of two clubs (Olympiakos and Kavala), the head of the national federation, coaches, players (among them Avraam Papapodopoulos, a national team regular) and businessmen. Kavala’s medical staff has also been accused of giving illegal steroids to its players and a member of the Olympiakos and Greek national basketball teams. The evidence was gathered by Greece’s clandestine national intelligence service because prosecutors said the local police kept tipping off suspects. Next year’s domestic league might be canceled and Greek teams face a possible 3-5 year ban from European competition.