This fall has so far been a helluva season for sports everywhere. On October 15th, FIFA banned Mongolian soccer chief Ganbold Buyannemekh for five years for “soliciting and accepting payments” in order to vote in favor of Qatari official Mohammed bin Hammam in the world body’s leadership. Hammam, a former president of the Asian Football Confederation, has been linked to handing out “incentive packages” during his failed bid to become FIFA’s president. Is this a sign that things are improving in the dark corridors of soccer bigwigs? Not really, since the Mongolian official was merely a collateral victim in FIFA’s ongoing half hearted and fickle witch-hunt to uncover the truth about whether Qataris paid bribes to secure the 2022 World Cup.
FIFA’s Sepp Blatter spoke out against calls to publish a report submitted by independent expert and former U.S. attorney Michael Garcia on the fairness of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding process. In an investigation published earlier in June, the UK’s Sunday Times presented evidence pointing to $5 million paid in bribes by the same bin Hammam to secure his country’s quixotic desire to host the 2022 tournament. The 78-year-old FIFA president, backed by Hans-Joachim Eckert, the governing body’s ethics czar, insisted that respecting the rights of the individuals involved is of the utmost importance and that the report should stay “private”. Instead, only the “adjudicator chamber’s impressions” of the report would be made available to the public, thus limiting the number of people who actually had access to the entire 350-page document, including 200,000 pages of evidence, to just four people.
Moreover, Eckert tried to preemptively cast a doubt over the report’s accuracy by claiming that Garcia might have been compromised and biased because he is an American citizen put in charge of sniffing out a bidding race in which the US was the runner up. If Qatar’s bid were to be found void, the U.S. would automatically become the favored nation.
Diseased sport – diseased society
Nowadays, corruption and soccer go together like peanut butter and jelly. Just ask Emanuel Medeiros, the head of the International Centre for Sport Security. He recently told delegates at a conference in London that at least one European soccer club is being run by an organized crime syndicate working through a front company. “Sport is under threat in a way unprecedented in its history” as corruption is “lurking in the shadows” and “sports governing bodies need to get real about prevention”. David Howman, the director general of the World Anti-Doping Agency echoed this sentiment when he called for a new impetus against sports corruption because “organized crime controls at least 25 percent of world sport”.
Indeed, in countries such as Greece, where mayors and aldermen of major cities are elected from the ranks of sports officials, have become dystopias of soccer corruption, showing what happens when lax supervision meets criminal intent. Under the aegis of self-made oligarchs like Evangelos Marinakis, owner of Champions League team Olympiakos FC, a sprawling criminal organization flourished undisturbed for many years, fixing matches and using violence and bribes to reap in profits, before being exposed by a UEFA report. The ensuing scandal, Koriopolis, seemed on the right track before the no questions asked removal of the lead prosecutor on October 3rd. With Marinakis comfortably installed as alderman in the port city of Pireus and his team busy polishing its 13 Greek championship trophies won in the last 15 years, nothing seems to be able to upset his path to success.
And before Ann Coulter graces the blogosphere with another rant on the moral degradation of European soccer infiltrating American society like terrorist sleeper cells, it would be worth noting that this disease spans all sports. Two world-class Italian tennis players, Daniele Bracciali and Potito Starace (a former world number 27) are facing corruption accusations of match fixing after intercepted Internet conversations were printed in Italian press on October 15th. Even if they have yet to officially be put under investigation, the two are not at their first run-in with the law. In the 2007/2008 season, they were given short suspensions for betting, in spite of ATP regulations. Even New Zealand was rocked late this summer by a cricket match fixing scandal that saw star player Lou Vincent banned for life.
Looking ahead, more clouds hang on the horizon. In early October, Oslo pulled out of the race to host the 2022 Winter Olympic Games, meaning that the International Olympic Committee can now chose between two countries with a not-so-stellar reputation in upholding human rights: Kazakhstan and China. Whichever way the race will go, expect stories of corrupt official stifling fundamental freedoms, seasoned with authoritarian leaders touting their countries “peaceful rise” to preeminence.
Luckily, our country has so far been spared from such scandals. Come election season, when Democrats will do their best to strike fear in our hearts with sound bites such as Pelosi’s quip to Bill Maher that “civilization as we know it today would be in jeopardy if the Republicans win the Senate”, Americans should take solace knowing that they have the privilege of watching true quality sports.
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