Last week I attended the Youth to Youth Initiative’s summit on anti-corruption, held in Krakow, Poland. The summit was a chance for young people from across the world to come and discuss the ways to reduce the impact of corruption in our daily lives. I was invited to speak on a panel about corruption and sports, with a particular focus on football and the FIFA scandals.
The discussions that we had were very informative and extremely interesting. Participants heard from FIFA whistleblower Bonita Mersiades, who told about the struggles that she faced whilst attempting to understand decisions being made from within the Australian World Cup bidding team. Bonita’s story is inspirational, and she is now extremely active in the campaign group NewFIFANow, working to ensure that scandals like the ones seen at FIFA are a thing of the past.
My role, as a speaker on the panel on the topic of corruption in sports, was to help the participants of the event understand why corruption in sports should be taken seriously as an issue and to hint at what we can do to make a difference.
I also spoke about the experience of seeing FIFA self-destruct from the point of view of a fan, and there was much discussion about how FIFA’s actions made people feel betrayed and damaged our belief in the game that we all know and love.
It was interesting to hear that many people were very sceptical about the impact that normal fans can have on organisations like FIFA, who have almost no accountability to us. Much was made that the most effective ways of getting change out of FIFA was to convince the sponsors to threaten to leave, and to rely heavily on the law enforcement of countries like the USA and Switzerland.
Whilst this is definitely true, and we have seen that these methods can be very effective, I wanted to emphasise the impact that sustain and strong fan pressure can have. Whilst FIFA, at this moment, may like to fool itself into thinking that they don’t have to listen to fans, this simply isn’t true. We have a right to demand better of this organisation; they get their money from us (sponsorship money wouldn’t come in if we didn’t watch) and they get their legitimacy from us. Even if it seems like we are banging our heads against brick walls, we must still shout loudly and complain when FIFA drags the game we love into disrepute. If we don’t do that, there is no incentive for sponsors to pull out, and there is no incentive for FIFA to even consider changing.
One other important point to mention came from a member of the audience who asked a very interesting and challenging question, something along the lines of this: “If England had won the 2018/2022 World Cup, would the FIFA scandal have come out?”. This is very important to consider, particularly because people within the football world have regularly blamed the British media for bringing up the issues of corruption in FIFA because we were sore losers.
There is definitely truth behind this – and it is possible to see double standards behind the British outcry. Whilst the British bid did not (as far as we know) pay actual bribes for votes, they did wine and dine delegates, and provide meetings with British royalty, sporting legends and political leaders. In the world of anti-corruption, this is very murky territory, and whilst it is not quite a case of the pot calling the kettle black, there are definitely some British tea-cups who can be glad that the spotlight was not shone too brightly on their own actions.
So would the scandal have come out? I think that on balance it probably would have, but maybe not as quickly and as destructively as it ended up doing so.
Overall it was a fascinating discussion in Poland, and thanks must go to the organisation Y2Y for inviting me. I want to finish by urging all of you who read this to look up the work of organisations such as NewFIFANow. Just because there is a new President in FIFA’s offices in Zurich does not mean that the struggle to reform the organisation and save our beloved sport is over.