The Prevalence of Corruption in global football institutions and the possible ways out 


With the increasing number of multi billion dollar sponsorships and deals offered by mega industries to sportsmen and associations within the football industry, corruption could not be anyway higher than it is as compared to cases of corruption in the past decades. Corruption in sports is nothing new as the first case of corruption in international sport is attributed to the athlete Eupolos of Thessalia who successfully bribed three of his competitors in the first combat tournament at the Olympic Games of 388 BC, including the reigning Olympic champion Phormion of Halikarnassos. Ever since then, numerous corruption scandals have been recorded across various sports in different regions of the world. 

When it comes to exploring corruption in global football, it is best to begin at the World’s highest football governing body i.e. Fédération Internationale de Football Association, or FIFA for short. Corruption has always been at the very core of this organization but it all came to limelight in May 2006 when a British reporter named Andrew Jennings sent shockwaves and controversy within the football industry through his book entitled “Foul! The Secret World of FIFA: Bribes, Vote-Rigging and Ticket Scandals”. He also produced an episode of Panorama with the BBC in which the former chairman of the English Football Association, Lord Triesman, described FIFA as ‘behaving like a mafia family’. According to Andrew Jennings, three main areas were identified in which FIFA officials were seen as corrupt. These include; cash-for-contracts scandal which led to the collapse of FIFA’s previous marketing partner, International Sport and Leisure. ISL had been accused of paying large bribes to senior officials at FIFA, namely, Nicolas Leoz, Issa Hayatou and Ricardo Teixeira, from the year 1989 till 1999. The bribes, according to ISL insiders, were to ensure that the company was awarded the marketing contract for numerous World Cups. Another area of corruption identified was in the awarding of world cup holding rights. Initially, this was not a source of concern until in 2010 when it was hosts for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments had already been announced which showed that there was a foul play somewhere. 

The British reporter also, another area where corruption was found to have eaten its way into the corridor of footballing power was in the person Sepp Blatter, a FIFA president from 1998 till 2006 in which during his tenure, the highest levels of corruption was perpetrated by numerous FIFA officials in terms of collection of bribes, cash-for-votes and money laundering. 

Why is corruption so widespread in global football institutions? 

Having said all these, it is no strange idea that corruption exist in even the most unimaginable places within the football community. Some of the reasons for the increasing corruption rate in football include; 

  1. Earnings from winning tournaments, cups and competitions: As at 2021, the total prize money for the FIFA 2022 world cup is about 700million dollars, a 22% increase from the previous world cup tournament with the cup winners expected to cart home the grand prize of 50 million as compared to the 38 million dollars winning prize at the 2018 world cup. Each of the Thirty-two (32) participating teams are also expected to receive substantial amount of money amounting to millions of dollars. The 2021/22 UEFA Champions league, an annual tournament organized by the Union of European Football Associations, has a total prize fund of 1.1bn euros available for distribution among the 32 sides with the winner of the tournament standing a chance of getting 85 millions euros in earnings. With this huge amount of money all up for grabs, it is possible that individuals, clubs and countries do all their possible best to ensure that they win the competitions. This in recent years has been one of the reasons for corruption in football. Clubs and countries have been found to bribe tournament officials, referees and whosoever is in charge of these tournaments so as to ensure that they have the highest chances of winning the tournaments. 
  1. TV rights and promotion fees: Although the mass media and internet has made football convenient and accessible to watch, the huge amount of money earned through TV rights has been one of the major reasons for corruption in football. For example, the TV rights for showing the 2010 and 2014 World Cup tournaments were bought for $600,000 to a TV company owned by a FIFA member Jack Warner. His company then sold them on to a different company for $18 million, earning a profit of £17.4 million. Not bad work if you can get it. With bribes being paid by companies for the purchase of the TV rights and then the sale of those rights for a huge amount of money, it’s no wonder that so many members of FIFA appear to have been tempted by the forbidden fruit. Bribery for lucrative broadcasting contracts is alleged to have included TV rights for a number of tournaments, such as the rights to broadcast the Copa América from 2015 to 2023, purchased by Datisa, a joint venture of marketing companies from Argentina. According to the May 2015 US Department of Justice indictment, the bribes in this case alone reached US$110 million for a handful of sports officials, with José Maria Marin, the former president of the Brazilian Football Confederation  (Confederação Brasileira de Futebol: CBF), Eugenio Figueredo, the former head of the South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL), and the presidents of each of the national associations in South America soliciting or intended to receive bribes. According to the Guardian, American broadcaster NBC has renewed its television deal with the Premier League in a new six-year agreement worth £2bn, which is almost double what the company, the home of Premier League coverage in the United States since 2013, paid for their current contract in 2016. With the amount of money to be made from streaming live football matches, many companies would be willing to do whatever it takes to lobby for the right. This has been found to be a common reason for bribes and cash for favour amongst football bodies and large TV corporations. 
  1. Sponsorship deals and ambassadors: According to the Forbes magazine, Cristiano Ronaldo, makes about 55 million through endorsements and partnerships with brands including Nike, Herbalife, Clear and his ever-expanding CR7-branded portfolio that includes perfume, underwear, eyewear, hotels, gyms and more. Recently, David Beckham signed an ambassador deal worth 150 million dollars with the Qatar government. With huge amount of money flying around, the fight for such opportunities has become much more competitive than ever with many of these footballers going head to head so as to get such lucrative deals. This has also in a way promoted the drive of many of the footballers to achieve individual awards and records rather than team awards which has led to favoritism amongst football governing bodies and match officials. This has been on more than occasion seen at the balon do’or, FIFA’s highest accolade for the best footballer of the year. With the most recent one at the 2021 awards where Polish player, Robert Lewandoskwi was excluded the award in favour of Argentinian player Lionel Messi. This and many more are things that international companies put into consideration when selecting their ambassadors or give sponsorship deals. 
  1. Sports betting and Match fixing: Match fixing is not a new phenomenon in football but with the recent rise in companies investing in sports betting, corruption is on the rise within the football industry. The  causes  of  and  influences  on  match-fixing  are  complex.  Sporting  events can  be fixed  to gain financial advantage or they can be fixed for sporting reasons – that is, to get the desired result.  A  pervasive  culture  of  cash  payments  –  from  referees’  travel  expenses  to  players’  goal bonuses to agents’ transfer fees – reduces misgivings about illegal activity and increases the risk of individuals becoming involved. High wages, abundant free time and exposure to gambling also heighten the vulnerability of professional athletes, while the huge rise of online gambling, in real time and across borders, has led to a sharp increase in activity by organized crime, which sees match-fixing as a low-risk venture with high returns. In recent years, various football athletes have been indicted for sports betting and match fixing. For example, In Goa in 2004 Wilfred Leisure and Curtorim Gymkhana were vying for promotion out of the country’s Second Division. Wilfred needed by win by seven goals more than their rivals in order to get promoted, so they must have felt pretty good when they took a 55-1 lead over Dona Paula Sports Club. Curtorim officials found out the scoreline, however, and Curtorim went on to win 61-1. All four teams teams involved in the games were subsequently banned for a year. Another of such famous scandal was the 2006 Italian football scandal involved Italy’s top professional football leagues, Serie A and Serie B. The scandal was uncovered in May 2006 by Italian police, implicating league champions Juventus, and other major teams including AC Milan, Fiorentina, Lazio, and Reggina when a number of telephone interceptions showed a thick network of relations between team managers and referee organizations. Juventus were the champions of Serie A at the time. The teams have been accused of rigging games by selecting favorable referees.

Solution to corruption in football

  1. Football players and officials alike are made fully aware of their obligations under the anti-corruption rules, including their duty to report improper approaches, however trivial they may seem. This is vital not only to ensure that incidents of attempted match fixing are properly investigated and dealt with by the relevant authorities, but also to ensure that the Public perception of the „integrity of football‟ is maintained so far as possible. With regard to the process of effective education, sporting governing bodies, anti-corruption units and players‟ and officials‟ associations all have a key role to play.
  1. Whistleblowing is a well-known means for fighting corruption in politics and business, and increasingly in sport, and is important to the success of prevention programmes. Some countries and/or sports already have established whistleblowing systems to report hints of matches  being  fixed.  For  example,  the  Bundesliga  established  an  ombudsman  in  2011,  to receive information (anonymously, if required), on the one hand, and to consult and assist every involved person, on the other hand.
  2. In sports, Internal reform must be open to external perspectives, including inputs from athletes and supporters, governments, sponsors and civil society. The ‘sports family’ needs to welcome those with know-how in anti-corruption activities, good governance, human rights, labour rights and development outside the world of sport as allies in the greater interest of sport. 
  3. Also, football regulating bodies need to be monitored by law governing authorities so has to ensure transparency, accountability and discipline in the discharge of their respective duties. 
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