If you, like me, are incredibly disappointed (but not surprised) that the World Cups in 2018 and 2022 went to a kleptocracy and an oil dictatorship respectively–two countries that have a horrific history of oppression, racism (Russia), sexism (Qatar), and homophobia (both)–let us remember that FIFA has a track record for this kind of thing. Off the top of my head:
1. The 1934 World Cup went to Mussolini’s Italy. To be fair, holding the World Cup in Italy in 1934 is not the same as the IOC holding the 1936 Summer and Winter Olympics in Germany (or even Italy in 1936). Nevertheless, Italy in 1934 was still a Fascist totalitarian state whose policies and rhetoric was downright scary.
2. Perhaps the most horrible thing FIFA has ever done (publicly) was during the qualification for the 1974 World Cup. The Soviet Union and Chile had to play each other for qualification. Chile’s legitimate government had recently been usurped by a brutal military junta. The new government tortured and executed political prisoners (left-wing political prisoners) in the football stadium in Santiago. These actions were well known. After a 0-0 draw in Moscow, the return leg was to played in the Santiago stadium. The Soviets refused to play there because of the atrocities. Rather than take action against Chile, FIFA disqualified the Soviet Union. Chile went to the World Cup. For once, the FIFA leadership suffered for their actions. Stanley Rous, the head of FIFA was successfully overthrown by Joao Havelange, who ushered in a whole new era of FIFA corruption and greed.
3. In 1978, Argentina (like Chile) was ruled by a military junta whose cruelty was well known around the world. Despite public outcry both within and outside of Argentina, FIFA saw absolutely no problem with Argentina as host (and eventual winners.)
4. In 2010 it was reported that the North Korean government had taken retribution against its national team and their manager after a poor World Cup performance. FIFA buried its head in the sand until public outcry became too great. They launched an “official investigation” which, to the surprise of no one, found out that no wrongdoing had taken place.
5. Time after time FIFA refuses to acknowledge that technology can be used to correct refereeing mistakes and ensure a fairer tournament. During the 2010 World Cup when Argentina played Mexico. Argentina’s Carlos Tevez scored a goal that was clearly off-side. The referee and his assistant missed the off-side at the time, but saw it on the instant replay in the stadium. Because of FIFA rules, the referee could not overrule the earlier decision and the goal stood (let me repeat that, he saw the mistake, but could not change it because it happened after the fact.) Mexico imploded, and Argentina won. The poor referee was unfairly maligned for a mistake that could have been easily corrected. What was FIFA’s response? They stopped showing replays during the match. (The United States was robbed a win against Slovakia after the referee in that match also made a horrific call. Fortunately, the United States still won the group.)
6. FIFA will suspend nations from participating in international competition if the nation’s government intervenes with the nation’s football association. This is particularly galling in nations where the football association is so corrupt (Nigeria) that government intervention is the only way to clean it up. On the other hand, an autocratic regime (North Korea) can get away with pretty much everything, because FIFA, like all bullies, is too frightened of taking real action against governments who not scared of them.
7. FIFA has dragged its feet in responding to worldwide gambling syndicates. One way they could help is by ensuring that national football associations, who have no oversight because of FIFA, pay their players so that said players–who are not stars and who do not make all that much money–are not tempted to throw matches. This is a real problem in poorer nations.
These are just some of the things that FIFA has done. This is all documented. I am not even talking about the (probably true) allegations of bribery and corruption. So, dear reader, if you are disappointed like me, at least let us understand that this is not the worst thing FIFA has ever done. FIFA, like the IOC, is an international conglomerate that is solely around to ensure that its members get paid. Russia and Qatar have money to pay those bills.