Kirk Bowman is the Jon Wilcox Term Professor of Soccer and Global Politics. With the recent FIFA indictments, resignation and kick-off of the World Cup, he’s had plenty on his plate.
Over decades, global soccer and FIFA created a multinational web of clientelism, cooptation, nepotism and corruption, resulting in a self-reinforcing equilibrium of beneficial relationships. The resulting Soccer Industrial Complex will not change with the election of a new president. Far-reaching reforms are necessary to fix FIFA. Among other reforms, the World Cup, the crown jewel of global soccer, requires dramatic restructuring.
The selection process of choosing a single country to host World Cups is a major source of problems. With modern transportation, a single host no longer makes any sense, as even a major soccer country like Brazil with 200 million people ends up with billions of dollars of unnecessary stadium construction and multiple stadiums sitting idle or used as parking lots after the event. At the same time, local taxpayers suffer the indignity of paying both wildly inflated construction costs for stadiums that host as few as four matches, and the continued upkeep of the abandoned white elephants. Argentina, Chile and Uruguay could jointly host the 2030 Cup celebrating the Uruguayan 1930 centenary with two or three new or refurbished stadiums each. Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia could jointly host in the future, as could Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore or Portugal and Spain. It’s also time for an agreed upon rotation of World Cup hosting across the six federations and the end of byzantine and discredited bidding process. To limit the fleecing of the local taxpayers, joint hosts should only use the minimum of eight stadiums for the 64 games.
FIFA must share the costs of the stadium construction with $1.5 - $2 billion to the host countries. This would be in exchange for the requirement of an independent board of representatives from civil society, human rights and anti-corruption organizations, respected retired soccer players and other parties to oversee the flow of money for the construction of stadiums, the negotiations of television contracts and sponsorships, and the distribution of tickets particularly the luxury packages that have been a repeated source of scandal. All contracts, income and payments for FIFA and World Cups should be transparent and available for the world via the Internet.
This model of transparency and effective oversight from actors outside of FIFA must also be used for club and national tournaments of the six federations, such as the Copa America, the principal culprit in the recent indictments and arrests. Soccer is the beautiful game and the World Cup is the most celebrated sporting event. Global soccer is systemically corrupt and has lost the legitimacy to govern itself in secret. The game should no longer be used to transfer fortunes from fans and taxpayers to soccer officials, politicians, construction companies, and media middlemen. A new FIFA president alone, no matter whom that is, will not alter the logic of the Soccer Industrial Complex.
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