For those who don't follow soccer (that's football to pretty much everyone who doesn't live in the United States), it's easy to forget that this isn't just a game. It's big business — very big — and like so many industries where there's big money to be made, corruption and greed seem to follow close behind.
For some time now, activists have been making noise about the World Cup due to be held in Qatar in 2022. As detailed by the Inquisitr, concerns range from unsafe working conditions and forced labor of migrant workers to allegations of corruption and censorship of journalists. One group, Playfair Qatar, claims that working conditions have been so bad on World Cup-related projects that 1,420 migrant workers have died between 2012 and 2014, and the number could rise to 4,000 if action isn't taken. (That's Playfair's statistics pictured below.) Among other tactics, activists have been targeting corporate sponsors to pressure the sport's world governing body, FIFA, to address the concerns, and asking companies to withdraw their support if action is not forthcoming.
In recent months, there have been promising signs that the campaign was gaining traction. According to the advertising trade publication Ad Week, sponsors including Adidas, Visa and Coca-Cola all issued statements expressing concern about working conditions, and calling on FIFA to use its position to force change. Then came a bombshell — early morning raids on FIFA headquarters and the host hotel for FIFA's annual meeting led to nine officials being arrested for charges of corruption into how the 2018 World Cup (Russia) and 2022 World Cup (Qatar) were awarded, according to The Guardian.
The stunning development led to immediate calls for FIFA President Sepp Blatter to resign his position. Blatter, meanwhile, said he would do no such thing in a speech to the annual meeting, vowing to continue his bid for reelection, and to fully address the scandals that have plagued the organization for decades: “These are unprecedented and difficult times for FIFA. The events of yesterday have cast a long shadow over football and over this week’s congress. Actions of individuals, if proven, bring shame and humiliation on football and demand action and change from us all. We cannot allow the reputation of FIFA to be dragged through the mud any longer.”
Given how long the rumors of corruption have been swirling around the organization (some allegations being investigated date back to the 1980s), it unclear if Blatter will hang onto his position. UEFA, the European governing body, has announced its support for Blatter's challenger, Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan, who is currently the vice president of FIFA. And David Gill, a board member of UEFA and the English Football Association (FA), has vowed to resign his upcoming seat on the FIFA executive committee should Blatter win reelection on Friday.
This is such a big deal that politicians are weighing in on the allegations. Britain's Sports Minister John Whittingdale called on Blatter to resign, comments that were endorsed by Prime Minister David Cameron, while Russian President Vladimir Putin went on record suggesting that the investigation against FIFA officials was a case of U.S. overreach, and a clear attempt to influence the upcoming vote.
Given the prominent role that sponsorship money plays in sports these days, corporate sponsors may play a deciding role in how this scandal plays out. Exactly how it will end remains to be seen, but reading between the lines, the early signs do not good look for Blatter:
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