World Cup fever, but clean-up task remains
June 15, 2018
World Cup fever, but clean-up task remains

The second biggest sporting event in the world, the 2018 football World Cup, began yesterday in Russia, host nation for the tournament which is staged every four years. It is estimated that the 64 matches will be viewed on television by some 3 billion persons, almost half of the estimated global population of 7.6 billion. Only the Olympic Games, with 3.6 billion viewers, in 2016 had a larger television audience.

The huge television viewership reflects the popularity of football on the world stage. No other single sport can boast of such mass participation, massive fan base, media coverage and revenue from television and sponsorship. Unfortunately, for the games in Russia, revenue from sponsors has not been as high as in previous years, nor in fact is the anticipated revenue for the 2022 tournament to be staged, controversially, in the Middle East state of Qatar.

That is because the governing body of world football, FIFA, has suffered tremendously from a series of corruption scandals linked to the awards to Russia and Qatar of the tournaments in 2018 and 2022. It led to a major shake-up in the global leadership of the sport and even to jailing of officials from different federations, linked to bribe-taking and other corrupt practices. Among the Federations affected were both the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) and the wider hemispheric body, CONCACAF, with prominent leaders like Jeffrey Webb of the Cayman Islands and the charismatic Jack Warner of Trinidad and Tobago, being major casualties.

The FIFA scandal forced the world body to change the voting procedures for the award of the 2026 tournament. The two final bids were from the North African state of Morocco and a united bid from the USA, Canada and Mexico. With all member nations entitled to vote, the united bid won by 134 votes to 65. Iran made it clear that it supported neither and Cuba, Spain and Slovenia abstained.
There has been much speculation that money was an important factor in the award of the tournament. FIFA itself has huge legal fees from its many scandals and with revenue down, the US bid, promising FIFA a whopping US$11 billion in profits, must have seemed far more attractive than the Moroccan proposal of US$5 billion. In addition the various national bodies must have been attracted by the prospect of more money from FIFA.

So, money was definitely a factor, as it is in the world of sport today. All the other claims of taking the tournament to previously neglected areas like Africa paled into consideration. In addition politics must have played its part too, and for these reasons it was no surprise that the entire Caribbean and CONCACAF, with the exception of Cuba, voted for the American-led bid. There were also reports, before the voting, that the current US administration had issued warnings about “watching who voted against” as a form of intimidation.

The more transparent award process would help to improve FIFA’s tarnished image but the global body, and its member Federations, including the CFU and CONCACAF, still have a long way to go to clean up the sport and particularly the administration of it. Jack Warner still faces extradition charges and his alleged hand-out of tens of thousands of dollars to CFU members is still unresolved. The SVG Football Federation for instance, has yet to account for a sum allegedly received by then top officials.

Still, over the next month, it will be matters on the field that take prominence and fans throughout the Caribbean will be avidly following proceedings and making predictions as to which team will emerge victorious in the Final on Sunday, July 15. After that, the herculean task of sanitizing the sport, its administration in particular, must reassume priority.