Soccer is a universal sport. It is played around the world in a variety of countries: rich and poor, democratic and nondemocratic, Western and Southern. For millions, it is more than just a game, it is a source of national pride, and competing in the World Cup is one of the highest honors a team can bring to its country.
But while the sport itself may be a unifying force within and among countries, the international governing body that organizes the World Cup, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), is not. In fact, it is the cause of many of the world’s current issues, ranging from corruption to human rights abuses to mass riots. FIFA has gained enough power and influence to become somewhat of a world government, causing it to be dubbed the “United Nations of Football.”
Brazil, the current host of the World Cup, spent $300 million to build just one stadium in a secluded part of the country that does not have a first-class team to play there afterward; it will apparently cost $250,000 per month to maintain. All this comes from a country that suffers from extreme poverty and inequality, a decaying infrastructure, and both healthcare and education programs in need of more funding. The construction has also led to the gentrification of locals, with many enduring rent increases, demolitions, and evictions.
But won't Brazil profit from the World Cup and be able to direct some of that money back to the people? While typically there is an increase in tourism revenue, there has already been less profit than expected, with Moody’s forecasting only a "temporary lift" to Brazil’s economy. This can best be categorized as the “World Cup effect,” in which host countries’ economies are harmed more than they are helped. Moreover, even if there are profits, there is no guarantee that those profits will go toward helping the people who need it most.
FIFA, on the other hand, will make an estimated $4 billion from TV rights and marketing deals related to the event. While this is less than the $13.6 billion Brazil might make, FIFA also profits from licensing deals and corporate partnerships/sponsorships while paying no taxes on World Cup revenues, as it is defined as a not-for-profit association under Swiss law. Additionally, by finding tax exemptions in every host country, FIFA denies these countries a further cut of the profits. How many nonprofits do you know that boast $1 billion in reserve savings?
This is made worse by FIFA’s rampant corruption, most recently seen with Qatar receiving the bid to host the 2022 World Cup. Qatar had already been criticized for its horrific human rights violations in preparation for the World Cup, for which they too are building a brand-new stadium. Already, more than 900 laborers have died since construction began in 2012, with countless others dealing with different forms of abuse, such as being “denied access to free drinking water in the desert heat.”
Without proper reform, FIFA's World Cup will fail to be a "People's Cup," taking away from the camaraderie, celebration, and pride that it so wonderfully creates. And yet many of us largely ignore these issues, understandably, in order to preserve the image of a sport we love. John Oliver put it best when he said:
[Soccer is] an organized religion and FIFA is its church. Just think about it. Its leader is infallible. It compels South American countries to spend money they don’t have building opulent cathedrals, and it may ultimately be responsible for the deaths of shocking numbers of people in the Middle East. But to millions of people like me, it is the guardian of the only thing in their lives that gives them meaning.