Talking Soccer: FIFAGate in the wake of the World Cup

FIFA president Gianni Infantino, right, and Vitaly Mutko, Russian Federation Deputy Prime Minister & Local Organising Committee Chairman attend the 2018 soccer World Cup draw in the Kremlin in Moscow, Friday Dec. 1, 2017. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

This is the last Talking Soccer of the year and with the 2018 World Cup looming in the horizon, I wanted to look at what’s going on in the soccer world leading up to the biggest event.

Since the corruption scandal broke out in May 27, 2015, FIFA has had a rough time trying to build their credibility and it’s hurting them badly. Six months until the World Cup and FIFA still has sponsor spots open.

According to a New York Times story, FIFA’s brand around the world is associated with corruption and only one of the 20 slots available to regional sponsors has been claimed. Moreover, no sponsors have come from Europe or the United States.

Patrick Nally, a sports sponsorship executive who helped set up FIFA’s first international marketing program, said the brand stands for corruption.

“It’s not surprising it’s been and still is a toxic brand,” Nally said. “Unless you are from China or somewhere like that, where the fact FIFA is in court in New York and associated with corruption doesn’t matter, no corporation is going to consider it safe to get involved with FIFA,” as reported by the New York Times.

FIFA’s trial in court in Brooklyn has not been in the mainstream media but the details of the trial are horrifying.

Ken Besinger, writer for BuzzFeed News, has been tweeting the updates on the court. Here are some of worst ones yet:

Jorge Delhon, a former Argentinian official, committed suicide after being accused by a witness in New York of accepting bribes.

Alejandro Burzaco, former sports marketing executive, pleaded guilty to corruption and has been helping US authorities in the investigations. He accused Delhon of accepting $500,000 in annual bribes.

Manuel Burga, a former soccer official facing a racketeering conspiracy charge, made throat-slitting gestures to apparently intimidate a key witness. Burga’s lawyer attributed it to a skin condition. 

A vote-buying scheme, corruption to bring the Copa America to the United States and more have been unveiling in the courts.

The corruption seems to never end in FIFA. The draw for the World Cup group was on Friday and Russia got one of the easiest groups in history. It was almost statistically impossible for them to be in a group with Saudi Arabia, Uruguay and Egypt.

Five Thirty Eight, a website focused on opinion poll analysis in politics and sport and economics, measured how easy Russia’s group was.

“(It is) based on Elo rating – a measure of a team’s quality that takes into account factors such as margin of victory, game importance and game location,” per the website.

The average Elo rating of the group is 1720, which is 98 points worse than the average of all World Cup teams.

Nate Silver, an editor for the website, measured the chances of Russia to get this group. There was only about a one-in-45 chance of getting a group that easy or easier.

Of course, it has not been proven that the draws were fixed, but with everything else going on, it wouldn’t be surprising.

With so much of this going on, I wonder how I or anyone is still interested in soccer and in this upcoming World Cup.

The sport is still as popular as ever, its reputation is bruised and I can’t lie, I’m disappointed and hurt my beloved sport is in this precarious situation.

I have hope that people and players are still in love because of the feelings it creates. I hope FIFA changes but I’m also realistic in the fact it will likely be years before I trust FIFA again.

I’m still excited as ever for the World Cup. There’s nothing more beautiful than seeing your national team’s colors and national anthem being played in the biggest stage (sorry, USA! Maybe next time.)

Yet, I still can’t overlook all the horrible things FIFA has done and that brings me down.


Daniela Marulanda is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at daniela.marulanda@uconn.edu.