Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : June 12th 2014 Contents JUNE 2014 • WEEK TWO www.guardian.co.tt BUSINESS GUARDIAN
NEWS | BG11
The mesmerising wizardry of Lionel Messi
and the muscular grace of Cristiano
Ronaldo are joys to behold. For deep-
dyed internationalists, however, soccer s
true beauty lies in its long reach, from
east to west and north to south. Soccer,
more than any other sport, has thrived on globalization.
Nearly half of humanity will watch at least part of the
World Cup, which will kick off in Brazil on June 12.
It is therefore sad that the tournament begins under
a cloud as big as the Maracana stadium. Documents
obtained by Britain s Sunday Times allegedly have revealed
secret payments that helped Qatar win the hosting rights
to the World Cup in 2022. If that competition was fixed,
it has company. A report by FIFA, soccer s governing
body, is said to have found that several exhibition matches
were rigged ahead of the World Cup in 2010. As usual,
no one has been punished.
This only prompts other questions. Why on earth did
anyone think that holding the World Cup in the middle
of the Arabian summer was a good idea? Why is soccer
so far behind other sports such as rugby, cricket and tennis
in using technology to double-check refereeing decisions?
Most of all, why is the world s greatest game led by
such a group of mediocrities, notably Sepp Blatter, FIFA s
boss since 1998? In any other organisation the endless
financial scandals would have led to his ouster years ago.
More than that, however, he seems hopelessly out of
date. From sexist remarks about women to interrupting
a minute s silence for Nelson Mandela after only 11 seconds,
the 78-year-old is the sort of dinosaur that left corporate
boardrooms in the 1970s. Nor is it exactly heartening that
the attempts to stop Blatter from enjoying a fifth term
are being led by Michel Platini, Europe s leading soccercrat,
who once was a wonderful midfielder but who played
a woeful role in supporting the Qatar bid.
Many soccer fans are indifferent to all this. What
matters to them is the beautiful game, not the tired old
suits who run it. Besides, FIFA s moral turpitude is hardly
unique. The International Olympic Committee, after all,
faced a Qatar-like scandal over the awarding of the winter
games in 2002, though it has made a much bigger attempt
to clean itself up. The boss of Formula One, Bernie Eccle-
stone, stands accused of bribery in Germany, while Amer-
ican basketball recently had to sack an owner for racist
remarks. Cricket has had its own match-fixing scandals.
American football may be overwhelmed by ex-players
compensation claims for injuries.
Soccer fans are wrong, however, to think that there
is no cost to all this.
First, corruption and complacency at the top make it
harder to fight skullduggery on the field. Ever larger
amounts of money are being bet on each game -- it may
be US$1 billion a match at the World Cup. Under external
pressure to reform, FIFA recently has brought in some
good people, including a respected ethics czar in Mark
Pieth. Who will listen to lectures about reform, though,
from an outfit whose public face is Blatter?
Second, big-time corruption isn t victimless, and it
doesn t end when a host country is chosen. For shady
regimes, the type that bribe soccer officials, a major
sporting event also is a chance to defraud state coffers,
for example by awarding fat contracts to cronies. Tour-
naments that ought to be national celebrations risk
becoming festivals of graft.
Finally, there is a great opportunity cost. Soccer is not
as global as it might be. The game has failed to conquer
the world s three biggest countries, China, India and the
United States. In America soccer is played but not watched.
In China and India the opposite is true. India and the
USA will not be playing in Brazil, and indeed have played
in the World Cup finals only once between them.
In FIFA s defense, the big three s lack of interest owes
much to their respective histories and cultures and to the
strength of existing sports, notably cricket in India. Soccer
is slowly gaining ground: In the United States, for example,
the first cohort of American parents to grow up with the
game are now passing it on to their children.
That only underlines the madness of FIFA giving the
cup to Qatar, however, instead of the United States. The
foul air from FIFA s headquarters in Switzerland will
hardly reassure young fans in China who are heartily sick
of the corruption and match-fixing in their domestic
It would be good to get rid of Blatter, but that would
not solve FIFA s structural problem. Though legally incor-
porated as a Swiss nonprofit organisation, FIFA has no
master. Those who might hold it to account, such as
national or regional soccer organisations, depend on its
cash. High barriers to entry make it unlikely that a rival
will emerge, so FIFA has a natural monopoly over inter-
national soccer. An entity of this scale should be regulated,
but FIFA answers to no government.
All the same, more could be done. The Swiss should
demand a cleanup or withdraw FIFA s favourable tax
status. Sponsors should weigh in on graft and on the
need to push forward with new technology: An immediate
video review of every penalty and goal would be a start.
The hardest piece of the puzzle is the host-selection
process. One option would be to stick the World Cup
in one country and leave it there, but that nation s home
team would have a big advantage, and tournaments
benefit from moving between different time zones.
An economically rational option would be to give this
year s winner, and each successive champion, the option
of either hosting the tournament in eight years time or
auctioning off that right to the highest bidder. That would
favor soccer s powerhouses. As most of them already
have the stadiums, there would be less waste; and it
would provide even more of an incentive to win.
Sadly, soccer fans are romantic nationalists, not logical
economists, so this proposal stands less chance of winning
than England does. One small step toward sanity would
be to rotate the tournament, so that it went, say, from
Europe to Africa to Asia to the Americas, which would
at least stop intercontinental corruption.
@2014 The Economist Newspaper Ltd. Distributed
by the New York Times Syndicate
A beautiful game,
a dirty business
A man works at
the pavement in
front of the Arena
de Sao Paulo
outside, left, prior
the 2014 soccer
World Cup start in
Sao Paulo, Brazil
on Tuesday. Brazil
will play the
opening match at
against Croatia on
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