Fifa: Any positives?

Fifa has been caught in the eye of a media storm that raises allegations of corruption, tax evasion, and bribery. Our Blog Editor, Joe Corry-Roake, examines the Fifa scandal with regards to the philanthropic work the organisation has done in the past. 

©blogcpolitic /Creative Commons License

©blogcpolitic /Creative Commons License

Within the space of a week, Sepp Blatter was both re-elected as Fifa President, and subsequently resigned. Blatter was able to be elected because during his time as President, FIFA have given a lot of money to help the development of less established parts of the globe by investing in both football and social projects. While there has of course been some corruption and not all of the money has necessarily gone where it should have gone, comparisons can certainly be made with other areas of ‘aid giving’ where money is frequently lost or utilised as ‘operating’ money or to grease the wheels.

Fifa argues that football provides money for local grassroots initiatives and also encourages countries to put on youth tournaments that are a source of national pride and can help develop infrastructure. The World Cup in South Africa in 2010 was seen as a big opportunity for a country to show all of the good that they have to offer to a global audience (even if the legacy suggests a lot of the money that was spent was wasted on vanity projects with little thought to usage in the longer term).

Not only can this pride be potentially beneficial in bringing investment and other resources into the country, but Fifa goes to great lengths to show other positive benefits of sport, such as in peace-building efforts. Blatter recently stated that “the World Cup in Russia [in 2018] will be able to stabilise all the situation in this region of Europe that is suffering now.” If this is true then you have to give Fifa huge credit from transforming a game widely criticised and condemned during the 1980’s due to its links with violence and hooliganism into one which can succeed in building bridges where nothing has has succeeded.

However, despite these successes, the promotion of this positive aspect of the game of football can be seen as just a tool to grow the consensus of the intrinsic good of their product. In doing so they not only enhance their own image but encourage greater investment from corporate sponsors who can claim to not only support a leisure activity but also a social good. This positive public relations exercise spins the game which is becoming increasingly commercialised into a new phenomenon far less open to criticism.

Furthermore, while the amount of money being put into those less developed footballing nations is increasing, most of the large footballing  “event’s main direct benefits, from television and marketing rights, all go to FIFA.” These are then said to be shared around the ‘football family’ but as can be seen in Brazil and South Africa, they have just been left with white elephant projects.

©Marko Forsten /Creative Commons License

©Marko Forsten /Creative Commons License

Blatter has now stepped down but this doesn’t mean that the continued use of backhanders and pandering to countries and individuals to gain votes will cease. What instead needs to happen is a realisation and an understanding that football does have great potential to make a real and tangible difference to people’s lives but this is only if it is used correctly. For example, Fifa-sponsored programmes in Liberia are said to not only help improve individuals self confidence and health benefits of partaking in exercise, but also being “the vehicle that can bring unity for our [Liberian] people.” This is just one example of a grassroots attempt which is complemented by the use of famous sporting stars lending their name and their brand to worthy causes. Between 2011 and 2014, Fifa’s income totaled almost $6 Billion USD with 4 billion of these coming from the Brazil World Cup.

This money combined with the huge potential reach of football – with 3.5 billion fans and 250 million people worldwide playing the game at either a professional or amateur level – is a huge opportunity for the next president not only to clean up the internal mechanisms of Fifa but also to recognise that, despite the potential of football to be a real force for good, simply expressing this as rhetoric is not enough. Football is not an intrinsic good but it can be of great instrumental value; giving access and opportunities to people all over the world and acting as a unifying force.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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