Former international spies hired to snoop on bids! Shady real estate deals! Picasso paintings swapped for votes! Said Picassos dismissed as worthless junk in a cover-up! Incriminating notes passed in executive committee meetings! Bribing someone to vote for you only to have them vote for someone else! Although this reads like a collection of anecdotes that didn't make the latest Dan Brown novel, it is actually a collection of details from the Sunday Times report on corruption in the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding process—a report in which Heidi Blake and Jonathan Calvert air an enormous amount of FIFA's dirty laundry.
The Times' lengthy report puts the task of reforming FIFA into its full and daunting perspective. People speak of reforming FIFA as if just uttering the term is already half the battle, but reforming FIFA doesn't stop with just FIFA. It involves altering the fundamental nature in which FIFA interacts with foreign governments and multibillion dollar corporations.
Although most of the corruption accusations to date have focused on Qatar's bid, the report's more damning sections focus on Russia's successful efforts. The report describes a lackadaisical Russia 2018 bid until, in mid-2010, Putin mobilized his billionaire's club on the bid's behalf:
"We are told that intelligence gathered from the period after Putin was understood to have taken charge of the bid highlighted a suspected trade of votes between Russia and Qatar, seemingly brokered through a major bilateral gas cooperation agreement under the auspices of Putin's deputy Igor Sechin."
Sechin is the head of the world's largest listed oil company, Rosneft, and often referred to as the second most powerful man in Russia. He has been blocked from traveling or doing business with the U.S. for "escalating the crisis" in Ukraine. Also involved in Russia 2018's turnaround were Chelsea owner and Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich and Gazprom CEO Alexey Miller (Gazprom is a FIFA and UEFA sponsor).
Qatar also used its natural resources to influence voters:
"Correspondence from the Files shows that Bin Hammam [then-president of Asian Football Confederation and Qatari national] personally arranged talks between al-Attiyah [Qatar's energy minister] and a representative of Worawi Makudi, the Thai executive committee voter, to discuss relations between the Thai and Qatari football associations alongside a major liquid natural gas deal between the two countries in August 2010."
An ex-MI6 agent who was hired by the England 2018 bid to spy on Russia and Qatar's bid told the Times investigators, "Our conclusion was that if there was collusion [between Qatar and Russia] it was done through the energy sector. Gas deals." In addition, Putin himself reportedly "hit the phones" to solicit votes.
The political and economic strings attached to bids were hardly limited to Russia. Then-French president Nicolas Sarkozy reportedly put pressure on Michel Platini, UEFA's president, to vote for Qatar because it would "benefit France commercially." These rumors aren't new; it has long been believed that Qatar agreed to purchase Sarkozy's favorite and cash-strapped club, Paris Saint-Germain, and create a TV station to rival Canal, which Sarkozy apparently hated. With the 2011 purchase of PSG and subsequent creation of BeIN Sport, both vows came to fruition.
Although this is hardly the extent of the accusations in Blake and Calvert's report (read it if you haven't already), the incestuous relationship between multinational corporations, governments, and FIFA is perfectly clear. Not only is all this evidence the ultimate death knell for any "keep politics away from my sports" argument, but it shows how deep FIFA's corruption spiral drills into the core of the modern, globalized world.
The traditional narrative is that FIFA's corrupt officials are the ones who need fixing. If only different, better people ran FIFA, the argument goes, the corruption in soccer would end. But reforming FIFA involves the people who approach FIFA with bribes. FIFA is associated with the most powerful individual in the world, the richest oil company in the world, the richest country in the world, and the largest natural gas company in the world. FIFA's corruption is so systemic, so fundamentally tied to global affairs, that the French president's direct involvement in this corruption is an afterthought.
To remove corruption from FIFA is to remove FIFA from itself. Every vote is bought, every decision is a favor, every handshake has an accompanying envelope being slid under the table. Cries to reform FIFA are becoming as hysterical as the person in the zombie movie who refuses to believe their loved one has turned into a zombie despite it lumbering towards them, drooling from the mouth, demanding their brains. You can't bring him back. You can't fix it. There's only one thing left to do. It's time to kill FIFA. Preferably with an axe.