This is to some degree a football moan, so if you’re not interested in football, read no further I would suggest. More specifically, this is a moan about FIFA (though really about sports administration generally), about whom it is impossible not to be come increasingly annoyed. It’s a curious phenomenon in sport that huge administrative entities seem to have been able to wrap themselves around what is, when it comes down to it, just a game. Football has FIFA (and all of the many national and regional football associations), rugby has the IRB (and all of the RFUs), the Olympics the IOC, etc, etc.
Whilst it would be foolish to think that sports can survive without some element of administrative and regulatory framework, I think it would be difficult not to be appalled by some of the things that you hear of FIFA and the IOC doing. I think it’s a disgrace that there has been so little media attention on the strong arm legal tactics that FIFA have used to bully local businesses in South Africa out of doing making any reference to the World Cup, no matter how small or inconsequential the local business, nor how minor the reference. The IOC are similarly overbearing with any mention of the Olympics by unauthorised companies – they send an arms of ‘brand monitors’ to the host cities of the Olympics a year in advance just to monitor advertising hoardings, local shops, etc.
There is a degree of inevitability about this, and it would be naive not to recognise that, but the complicity of the media in this rather brutal set up is pretty sickening – if you want to have any chance of getting the broadcasting rights to not only this event, but future events organised by the relevant body, then you better not create a stir now, seems to be the basic approach. It all seems a bit Soviet to my eyes.
The objectionability of this might be lessened somewhat if all of the money made by the various bodies was pumped back into the sport, in those countries and areas that can’t afford such luxuries themselves (although even at that, given the numbers involved – FIFA are projected to make a £1.7 billion profit out of the World Cup – it would be difficult not to see better ways of spending the money). You couldn’t claim that none of this goes on, but it really is small fry relative to the enormous amounts of money raked in, and when you hear of the bonuses that are distributed internally (in a presidential election year, in the case of FIFA), it becomes a bit difficult not to feel that there really is more than an element of corruption about the whole thing.
It might be a stretch to see this as an issue that the UN would discuss, but I’d be delighted if they or the G20 got involved in this and enforced a rule that FIFA and the IOC, as organisers of the two largest global events, had to pour back a significant percentage of their profits (say 50%) into the city or country that was hosting the event, or perhaps into an aid fund. This would seem to me to be a better realisation of the rhetoric trotted out by all of the sports agencies about sport being a force for good.