Can FIFA change?

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The plan was simple: This editorial was supposed to celebrate Canada’s hosting of the Women’s World Cup.

After all, the plan was to delay the release of the summer issue by a few weeks so that we could feature a full retrospective of the biggest international soccer tournament to ever come to this country.

But, FIFA decided to intervene. No, check that. FIFA continued to do business the way it always had. It was the American and Swiss authorities who decided to intervene, coordinating on an investigation that led to arrests of multiple FIFA officials on charges of racketeering and fraud. Dark allegations surround the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

When I read through the indictment from the United States Department of Justice, what was striking wasn’t the amount of money or that votes could allegedly be sold so easily. What was shocking was how little was hidden from plain sight.

You’d think that, if you’re going to bribe an official, you’d be smart about it. You’d make sure the money or gifts couldn’t be traced to you. The exchange would happen in a dark, secluded place, and the bills would be in a bag or a briefcase. But, no, there were accusations that wire transfers that went through the United States. Nothing to see here!

It was clear that the culture of bribery is so entrenched that officials simply assumed they could be out in the open with their transgressions. They weren’t concerned about being caught.

When President Sepp Blatter announced his intention to step down — just four days after telling FIFA officials he was “the president of everybody” in a surreal victory speech — there were celebrations across Europe and parts of North America, the places where anti-Blatter sentiment is hot.

I say, let’s hold off on that optimism. We have promises of reforms, but no actual reforms. We may have a new president — or Blatter could do an about-face and run for re-election.

The Canadian Soccer Association voted against Blatter in 2015, a startling about-face for an organization that has toed the FIFA party line for years — and has been rewarded with U-20 World Cups and a Women’s World Cup. It had also been urged by FIFA to bid for the 2026 World Cup, with Blatter suggesting that “it’s time” for the biggest of the big to come to Canada.

The Canadian Soccer Association chose to do the right thing over stay-the-course pragmatism. It may cost us the 2026 World Cup.

But, it’s only worth it if FIFA does, well, change. Since Blatter resigned, there has been a large push from African and Asian federations, who want him to un-resign.

This story originally appeared in Plastic Pitch #6.

And, when it comes to challengers from the thrones, we get the likes of Diego Maradona and disgraced baseball star Jose

Canseco — who has promised to get rid of ties as his first order of business — launching what amount to giant troll campaigns.

(Canseco, by the way, isn’t really going to run. But, man, are his tweets funny. And if you look them up because of this editorial, my job is done).

FIFA has been corrupt for a long time. So, why do so many federations still support Blatter and the old guard? That might be a more important question to answer than anything an American or Swiss investigator can find in a Chuck Blazer deposition.

The truth is, FIFA can’t change until an end comes to the toxic rivalries between federations. That mistrust has nurtured a culture of corruption. Changing Blatter won’t change FIFA, because a Blatter-ist will eventually take over if all the other confederations still line up to oppose UEFA at every turn.

Blatter has long stood against Western Europe; and, in the eyes of most of FIFA, a corrupt leader who stands against the great evil of big-money, arrogant, colonial Europe is like the devil you know.

Why? Europe pushes its domestic calendar as the “true” international calendar ignoring the fact that leagues in many other parts of the world play in different times of the year. During the FIFA election, some European powers suggested it was unfair that smaller countries had the same voting power as the European nations.

Do they not understand how colonial they look?

If we want to clean up FIFA, Europe needs to be a partner, not a colonist. UEFA has to give up the arrogance and offer some olive branches.

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