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FIFA and Corruption: some Ethical Considerations
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2015-06-09 11:26:32
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Was anybody who loves soccer, and/or does not love soccer for that matter, very surprised to hear that there was rampant corruption in FIFA, that literally, suitcases full of money were being transacted regularly? If anything the surprise was that finally, after 17 years of corrupt leadership, something was being done to stamp out the rampant corruption and the illegal wielding of power, and that this legal reprisal may lead to changes within the worst kept secret in the world of sports; surprising also that it is the United States that is doing it, given that the US federation is not a power player.


The question naturally arises: can one remain a soccer fan knowing about the excessive corruption within its governing body? The only plausible answer is that for the vast majority of fans a distinction is made between the match itself and its ethical context. This is also troubling in itself: are we to infer that the fans are indifferent to the ethics of the context, that they are merely interested in enjoying the game uninterested in game fixing or referee buying or the selling of venues for the world cup? The only plausible answer is that during a soccer match they somehow manage to mentally split the game from its circumstances.


It’s like Catholics who keeps on practicing their faith but have no trust in its hierarchical leadership. They go to Church on Sunday but pay no attention to what their denomination proclaims. Similarly, the only important thing while one is watching a match is the match itself. In fact one can go further with this line of reasoning and suspect that for many soccer has become a religion of sort; it lends meaning to their lives; that explains the widespread attraction of the game: it gives people a community to which to belong, a place where to meet and where one may be part of something bigger than oneself; something that becomes part of one’s cultural identity: we are all Europeans because we all love soccer; that is to say, one belongs mind and soul to the community of soccer fans who fanatically believe in the game no matter what the circumstances. Soccer has partially supplied an answer to one’s quest for meaning. So, once a week, for some 90 minutes, just as one used to derive meaning from worshipping in a church, now that meaning is derived from a 90 minutes’ soccer game.


But the more fundamental questions persist: does the bigger ethical picture matter? Does it matter that FIFA controls all aspects of the game? Can the organization be reformed or should it be abolished and a new structure imagined and implemented? Are we to be surprised that Putin from Russia and the Catarrhs who are employing what can only be characterized as slave labor to build the venues for the next world cup are greatly irritated at the country responsible for the arrest of FIFA’s ringleaders? Do we neverthless need the whole confederation to work together at reforming FIFA? Does it matter that the next two tournaments were awarded in questionable manners? Should they be moved? Obviously it does not matter much to the likes of Putin who wants to keep things just as they are.


On a purely legal basis, it bears pointing out that the reason why the current five defendants can be tried in the US is because of the types of crimes committed and their location. They are the kind of crimes redolent of the crimes of mob mafia families. Only one defendant is from outside the American hemisphere and he too was involved with dealings on US territory. Hence the US can justifiably claim jurisdiction and has in fact done so. We can safely wager that other European countries will follow suit. Meanwhile Sepp Blatter who is mainly responsible for the corruption but so far has not been indicted, has already left office to save his own hide. His options at the moment seem to be jail or hide, and he loves himself a bit too much to opt for jail. As the saying goes, what goes around comes around.

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