What does FIFA, the international soccer federation, have in common with the United Nations, Formula One, and the International Olympic Committee (IOC)? They’re all international organizations and they’re all notoriously corrupt.
The corruption at FIFA, including the payment of millions of dollars in bribes, has now been uncovered by Department of Justice sleuths who indicted a number of senior officials and forced the resignation of longtime chief Sepp Blatter. Whether this will bring long-term changes in the way that FIFA is run is questionable, however. Certainly the track record of the IOC and UN would indicate otherwise.
Corruption at the IOC occasionally gets exposed, as during the scandal over bid-rigging for the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games, but, as this 2014 article in The Nation noted, there is a lot more corruption still out there.
Oh, and over at Formula One, its boss, Bernie Ecclestone, agreed to pay a German court last year $100 million to settle bribery charges.
And then of course there is the United Nations, which, as the Foundation for Defense of Democracies noted, “is a hotbed for corruption and abuse. It is opaque, diplomatically immune, largely unaccountable, and has come to regard billions in U.S. tax dollars not as a privilege to be earned, but as an entitlement.” As the FDD further noted: “The U.N. has failed to reform. Following the Oil-for-Food scandal, in which the U.N. profited from and covered up for billions in Baghdad kickbacks and corruption, the U.N. in 2006 promised greater transparency, accountability, an end to Peacekeeper rape, the elimination of redundant mandates, and a more ethical culture. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon arrived in office in 2007 promising ‘to restore trust’ and calling for a system-wide audit. None of these things has been accomplished.”
What unites all these entities? While Formula One is an actual multinational corporation owned by investors, the others are all non-profit, multinational institutions that enjoy virtual monopolies in their fields and operate with scant oversight or accountability. They are, in other words, walking advertisements for how world government works in practice rather than in theory. Turns out that being liberated from political oversight—especially of the kind provided by voters—is not a recipe for enlightened rule. Rather it is a formula for massive self-dealing that enriches officials involved at the expense of the public, which, whether through buying tickets to see sporting events, building stadiums, or (as in the case of the UN) paying dues, ultimately picks up the checks.
There is no real and lasting solution evident because the very international character of all these groups places them, at some level, above national codes of conduct. But at least in the case of FIFA, the Justice Department has shown how an enterprising application of a national legal code can be used to ensnare international kleptocrats. Now, real justice would come if a reformed organization decides to take the World Cup away from future hosts Russia and Qatar, which in their lack of democracy and tolerance for corruption are reflections of everything that is wrong with FIFA.