By John Leicester ,AP
PARIS — Perhaps the only thing scarier than the scale of corruption that U.S. investigators are uncovering in soccer is the thought that a sizeable chunk of those indicted administrators might soon also have laid paws on the sport’s crown jewel, the World Cup.
Back in 2013, it seemed like a smart move when the power to decide where soccer’s showcase tournament is played was taken away from Sepp Blatter and the FIFA president’s discredited Executive Committee.
Their scandal-tainted selection behind closed doors of not just one but two dubious World Cup hosts — Russia for 2018 and Qatar for 2022 — had caused a reputation-shredding stink for FIFA. So at a May 2013 congress on the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius, 200 of FIFA’s member associations approved by 198 votes to 2 that from now on they would make future World Cup hosting decisions themselves.
A larger electorate, the thinking went, could be harder for World Cup bidders to bribe and otherwise corrupt and influence than the smaller Executive Committee of two dozen members. So the change seemed like a modest victory for reform, accountability and transparency in an organization that desperately needed industrial-strength doses of all those things.
Based on what U.S. justice officials are now turning up, the guardianship of the World Cup still looks far from safe. So far, 16 of FIFA’s member associations have been implicated in the ongoing U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation of decades of soccer bribery and graft, by virtue of the fact that either their presidents or ex-presidents — or both in the cases of Brazil, Honduras and Guatemala — are among those indicted or who have pleaded guilty. Throw in the soccer associations of Argentina and South Africa, also named in DOJ indictments, and the figure rises to 18.
That is 18 out of the total of 209 national soccer associations that are affiliated with FIFA. Or, put another way, approaching 10 percent of the electorate in future votes to choose World Cup hosts. Although that doesn’t necessarily mean that entire associations must be riddled with corruption or that future World Cup votes will be, that so many of them are operating under DOJ clouds is bad for trust, confidence and credibility in the whole system.
So reforms that FIFA is now applying to the way it does business must also go beyond the governing body’s headquarters in Zurich. To turn FIFA into something other than a byword for bad management and abuse of power will also require rooting out bad management lower down soccer’s pyramid, among FIFA’s membership. Having one without the other would be like putting lipstick on a pig and won’t fool anyone.