This week’s indictments of high level FIFA officials and the resignation of the organization’s CEO will no doubt trigger articles on remedies for the culture of corruption that makes such behavior all but inevitable. For example, in the aptly titled FIFA Scandal: The Science of Corruption, Laura Geggel cites three rationales commonly used by perpetrators: (1) the need to give bribes to make ends meet; (2) [you] won’t get caught or punished; and (3) [bribery] is institutionalized and familiar”.
These elements work well enough to explain the behavior of a single organization but FIFA is a federation of national affiliates some of which give or receive bribes and whose Secretariat is evidently as deeply committed to feathering its own nest as it is to promoting soccer. It is hard to know how the purported misconduct by the government of Qatar is believed by them as essential to “making ends meet.” Rather, the behavior was seen as a way to boost national prestige and consolidate its hold on power (e.g., Putin, V.)
Of course, the bribers don’t worry about being “caught and punished,” unless they are deposed and you are talking about war crimes. Bribe recipients need to be a little more careful and some of them have been indicted. As for bribery being “institutionalized and familiar,” it certainly is the latter but what institution are we talking about? Perhaps FIFA is the institution that was intended to impose order on the soccer world’s state of nature. Not surprisingly, it failed at the task.
Global sport has come to resemble big business in its reach, influence and profit margins- as well as its operating environment in which corruption can, and does, thrive. If there is a lesson to be learned, it is that it would have been a surprise if the organization were not corrupt. The game that FIFA has played for so many years is not the one you see on the field.