FIFA Scandal: Global Media Outlets Offer Divergent Views
While the U.S. media takes the high ground, calling for a clean up at soccer's governing body, networks from Russia, China and Qatar slam the FBI for 'meddling' by investigating corruption allegations.
The still-unfolding scandal engulfing FIFA, the world soccer governing body, is the rare sports media story that can truly claim to have global reach. Wednesday's news that FIFA was postponing the bidding process for the 2026 World Cup led to the latest round of news coverage.
News of the FBI-driven arrests of FIFA executives in Switzerland last month, followed by the surprise resignation of FIFA president Sepp Blatter on June 3, made headlines and topped newscasts worldwide. The reaction from nation to nation, however, has been different.
While U.S. networks focus on the FBI-as-world-policeman narrative — and the corruption allegations against foreign executives and corporations — Russia and Qatar, the beneficiaries of allegedly corrupt bids to host the 2018 and 2022 soccer World Cups, have slammed the FBI investigation as politically-motivated.
In the soccer-saturated nations of Europe and South America, the FIFA scandal has been greeted with a mix of glee — Argentine anchors toasted Blatter's resignation with champagne on air — and trepidation as allegation follows allegation, and local executives risk getting caught up in the net.
A look at the international media reaction also shows that not everyone agrees who's winning. World opinion, however, is undivided when it comes to United Passions, the FIFA origins movie that Blatter & Co. financed to the tune of $25 million-plus and convinced Tim Roth, Sam Neill and Gerard Depardieu to take part in. The film, according to Hollywood Reporter estimates, grossed a grand total of $900 over its first weekend in the U.S. and has earned only $200,000 worldwide after more than six months.
Here is a round-up of media coverage of the FIFA scandal in various parts of the world...
News of the FIFA scandal has taken over broadcasts and newspaper front pages across most of South America, and the entire soccer community is on alert. Several of the persons named in the FBI investigation are from the region, including Argentine executives Alejandro Burzaco, CEO of Torneos y Competencias, Hugo Jinkis, and his son Mariano Jinkis, owners of sports marking business Full Play Group.
All three are accused of paying FIFA more than $150 million in bribes to obtain broadcasting rights. Burzaco turned himself in to authorities in Italy on June 9. The Jinkis remain fugitives wanted by Interpol.
Also in the FBI's crosshairs is Brazilian Jose Margulies, controlling partner of Valente Corp, who allegedly served as an intermediary to facilitate illicit payments between sports marketing executives and soccer officials.
Media focus down under has been on Australia's payment of $500,000 (AUD) —around $380,000 (USD) — to a bank account controlled by disgraced ex-FIFA executive Jack Warner.
Australia says the money, paid ahead of Australia's failed bid for the 2022 World Cup, was intended to create “goodwill.” Authorities see it as a bribe. Frank Lowy, president of Australia's soccer association, said Oz was “duped” into paying Warner the money and called for an investigation.
The association has also shelved Australia's planned bid for the 2023 Women's World Cup, saying it won't bid for any FIFA tournament until FIFA gets its house in order.
With the NHL season in full swing, hockey-crazed Canada has been paying more attention to bodychecks and high-sticking than FIFA's scandals. But the media attention has had the unexpected benefit of raising awareness for the Women's World Cup, which Canada is hosting and which kicked off this past weekend.
"With the world watching, we look forward to shining a well-deserved spotlight on both the tournament and the incredible group of players on the Canadian women’s national team," said Scott Henderson, spokesman for the tournament's Canadian broadcaster Bell Media.
Canada is keen to present the women's game as an upstanding, non-corrupt version of soccer, insisting there was nothing untoward about the bidding for the 2015 tournament. The only scandal so far has been a lawsuit, now abandoned, brought by U.S. star Abby Wambach and other international women's players, protesting the use of artificial turf in all tournament venues. The suit claimed the rule, which could lead to more injuries for female players, constituted gender discrimination, since all matches in the men's World Cup are played on grass.
In soccer-mad China, which is currently cracking down on corruption in its own ranks, there has been little commentary on FIFA or Blatter's decision to resign. State broadcaster CCTV controls the broadcasting rights to the World Cup, and there is little prospect of that changing anytime soon.
An op-ed in the Global Times, a newspaper published by the same state-owned company that owns the Communist Party organ, the People's Daily, chastized U.S. authorities for carrying out what it called "selective law enforcement" to serve its own interests.
"It could be true that FIFA is corrupt, like many other international institutions, however, the scandals' exposure happens to serve the interest of the U.S. each time," it wrote. "It seems that whether the problems are to be investigated, it depends on Washington's will."
In Germany, home of the reigning World Cup champions, the FIFA scandal has been front-page news from the start. Analysts have speculated if — and when — the FBI investigation will turn its spotlight on bidding for the 2006 World Cup, which Germany hosted.
There have been allegations of corruption surrounding the 1998, 2010, 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids but so far Germany (and 2002 co-hosts Japan and South Korea) have escaped scrutiny. The head of the German soccer association, Wolfgang Niersbach, insists everything was aboveboard but opposition politicians have demanded the government of Angela Merkel investigate Germany's 2006 bid.
Jurgen Klinsmann, former German national team manager and current coach of the U.S. national team, told Der Spiegel magazine that he expected “an avalanche” of revelations from the FBI investigation.
Even in cricket-crazed India, Blatter's resignation and the broader FIFA scandal have received major coverage.
Much of the coverage centers on speculation that U.S.-based India-born Sunil Gulati, the president of the U.S. Soccer Federation, could replace Blatter as head of FIFA.
Indian media outlets have also compared FIFA's corruption to an infamous betting scandal that engulfed Indian cricket in 2013.
Press coverage has focused on a strange local twist in the FIFA scandal — namely a $5.6 million payment FIFA made to the Irish soccer association.
The payoff was in return for Ireland dropping legal action over a controversial refereeing decision that prevented Ireland from qualifying for the 2010 World Cup. Ireland claims the payment was for building a stadium on the emerald isle — a stadium that still does not exist.
After the media circus following the initial FIFA arrests, and Blatter's surprise resignation announcement, soccer-mad Italy has been conspicuous in its silence.
One reason may be Blatter himself, who, unlike in other territories, is held in extremely high regard in the country.
Italy is a big territory for World Cup rights — public broadcaster RAI paid just under $400 million for broadcast rights to the 2010 and 2014 tournaments, with pay TV powerhouse Sky Italia taking the pay TV rights for around $200 million.
Blatter's resignation was the lead news story in Japan throughout the day on June 3, and extensive coverage continued into the next day.
Interest in the goings on at the world's soccer governing body was heightened by Japan Football Association vice president Kozo Tashima having been elected to FIFA's executive committee a few days beforehand.
But Japanese TV networks are more ambivalent about the global soccer body. Satellite network Sky Perfect JSAT, which carried the 2006 and 2010 World Cups, pulled out of bidding for the 2014 tournament, citing major losses and the ¥40 billion (around $395 million) cost for the Brazil tournament. The rights fees were up from $237 million for the 2010 South Africa tournament.
A shake-up at FIFA could be the catalyst for a renegotiation of the loss-making deals for the Japanese TV networks. Dentsu, the Japanese advertising giant that handles the Japanese rights for FIFA, declined to comment on the situation or any possible effect on its exclusive rights deal.
The Arab emirate has been in the spotlight thanks to FBI allegations that it bribed FIFA officials to secure the rights to host the 2022 World Cup. Qatar’s stock market plunged on news of the FIFA arrests. At the end of May, it posted its biggest decline in five months.
After Blatter’s resignation, U.K. bookmaker William Hill cut the odds on Qatar losing rights to the Cup to 5-4 from 5-1. For its part, Qatar's state-controlled media has said reports of corruption surrounding its bid were the result of anti-Arab prejudice.
In Russia, which like Qatar is facing renewed scrutiny over its successful bid to host the 2018 World Cup, the FIFA scandal has been buried.
News of Blatter's resignation didn’t make front pages or top stories on TV newscasts. Directly following the arrests, president Vladimir Putin expressed support for Blatter, accusing the United States of interfering with FIFA business."This is another attempt to extend its jurisdiction to other states," Russian news agency TASS quoted Putin as saying about the U.S. corruption and racketeering charges.
Across the (disputed) border in Ukraine, however, Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko welcomed the FIFA investigation. "Truth always wins!" he wrote on his Facebook account, adding that Blatter's resignation "gives hope for canceling some of the corruption-driven decisions" made by FIFA in what was seen as a reference to awarding the 2018 World Cup to Russia.
The fresh allegations surrounding South Africa's 2010 World Cup bid have been the focus of reporting on the FIFA scandal.
South Africa paid $10 million into an account controlled by FIFA executive Warner ahead of its successful bid. The cash, which the FBI claims was a bribe, appears to directly link Blatter's right-hand man, FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke, to nefarious dealings, and — it is speculated — is the main reason why Blatter decided to step down.
In a separate development, South Africa's Sunday Times has published claims from a former FIFA executive committee member saying FIFA fixed the 2010 vote to ensure South Africa, and not competitor Morocco, won hosting duties.
Baseball season is in full swing in South Korea, pushing the FIFA scandal off the front pages, but media attention is still high, thanks to Korean soccer executive Chung Mong-joon, an honorary FIFA vice president who is tipped as a possible replacement to Blatter as FIFA president.
Chung was one of the top FIFA executives who called on Blatter to resign. But the billionaire scion of South Korea’s Hyundai conglomerate, a major FIFA sponsor, may not have the political support within the organization to make a successful presidential bid.
Newspapers and sports commentators in Spain have obsessively covered the FIFA scandal.
Spain was among the European triumvirate of teams to defy UEFA chief Michel Platini's plea to oust the scandal-ridden Blatter in the FIFA elections. Spain, Russia and Platini's native France backed Blatter.
The president of the Spanish Soccer Federation Jose Maria Villar, a FIFA vice president, has been the subject of controversy in Spain, having been accused of misappropriation of public funds, involving flying his family to the World Cup in South Africa. The case was closed without charges but the taint remains.
TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO
The tiny Caribbean island finds itself at ground zero in the FIFA crisis thanks to Warner, the embattled former FIFA vice president at the center of many of the most egregious corruption charges.
In addition to allegations he took a $10 million bribe from South Africa, and several hundred thousands from Australia, U.S. investigators have accused Warner of diverting $750,000 in emergency funds donated by FIFA and the Korean Football Association intended for victims of the 2010 Haiti earthquake.
Warner was arrested last month in Trinidad at the request of U.S. authorities and faces extradition on charges of corruption and money laundering. Warner has continued to deny any wrongdoing, but in a public television address has pledged to reveal all and promised an "avalanche" of revelations.
The homeland of soccer has been awash in media coverage of the FIFA scandal.
Commentators and politicians continue to discuss the possible fallout and how Britain should position itself amid criticism of the commercial aspects of the country's favorite sport.
Chris Bryant, a politician from Britain's opposition Labour Party, has said that the BBC and ITV should not make their payments for the rights to broadcast the 2018 and 2022 soccer World Cups until FIFA reforms and reruns the bidding process for hosting duties. "Is it not increasingly evident that FIFA is a stinking sink of corruption that has polluted everything it has touched?" he said.
New U.K. sport secretary John Whittingdale has said that England would be ready and able to host the World Cup in 2022 if it was stripped from Qatar, but added was unlikely as Russia is staging the 2018 tournament, and FIFA rules don't allow back-to-back editions of the event to be held on the same continent.
America is enjoying occupying the high ground in the global FIFA scandal. President Barack Obama, speaking at the G7 summit in Germany, noted that the game of soccer “must be held to high standards” and that it was very important for FIFA "to be able to operate with integrity and transparency and accountability."
He also said: "As the investigation and charges proceed, we have to keep in mind that although football — or soccer, depending on which side of the Atlantic you live on — is a game, it is also a massive business. It is a source of national pride, and people want to make sure it operates with integrity."
The U.S. has a particular interest in making sure the game is kept above board, he added. “Since we keep on getting better and better at each World Cup, we want to make sure a sport that is gaining popularity is conducted in an upright manner," Obama said.