In the wake of FIFA’s release of its investigation into the World Cup bidding process, we asked some of our writers for their choices of the worst governed sport. There is no shortage of candidates.
I am proud to announce that AFA (Asociación del Fútbol Argentino) is the worst governed league in the world, and it is getting worse day by day.
–Pablo Alabarces is author of Fútbol y Patria: El fútbol y las narrativas de la nación en la Argentina. He is professor in the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Buenos Aires.
The Brazilian soccer league might be the worst governed league in the world. It has long been run by a closed group of wealthy clubs (called the Group of 13) who have a dysfunctional relationship with the opaque and cloistered Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF). The overly strong influence of Brazil’s hegemonic media network, Globo, takes the decision-making power out of the hands of the clubs and allows the CBF to negotiate lucrative television contracts to its own benefit. The Brazilian league is out of sync with the international calendar, allowing European teams to raid Brazilian clubs in mid-season, taking away the best talent at low prices. The endemic conditions of youth player exploitation and fan and police violence, along with the absence of transparency in decision making, finances, scheduling, player transfers, and salaries, effectively deracinates soccer from the people that give it sustenance. Since the 2013 Confederations’ Cup, Brazil has had the most expensive soccer tickets in the world relative to minimum wage. Working class fans are priced out, attendances are in decline, and terrace culture is being extinguished at the same time that ordinary fans are treated as potential criminals. In November of 2014, FIFA gave the CBF $100 million to build new training centers around the country, yet there is no transparency mechanism in place to evaluate these projects. The seemingly endless corruption scandals that have hit FIFA in recent years can be traced back to its modern architect, the Brazilian João Havelange.
–Christopher Gaffney is author of Temples of the Earthbound Gods: Stadiums in the Cultural Landscapes of Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires. He is senior research fellow in the Department of Geography at the University of Zurich.
This question reminded me of an old joke told about a city motorist who is lost in the countryside and asks for help. The local gives various directions, then in frustration at the lack of signposts says, “If I wanted to get there, I wouldn’t start from here.” The joke has some applicability to this question, in that if a person wanted to begin a successful and inclusive sporting organisation, he or she wouldn’t start anywhere near the current state of sports governance.
But the joke is in some ways not applicable, because most international sports organisations (such as the IOC, FIFA and so forth) did not start from humble beginnings. Aristocrats like De Coubertin, wealthy upper-class individuals with private incomes and military commissions, tended to be much in evidence at their beginnings. These tendencies are still much in evidence today. Princess Anne, HRH The Princess Royal, became only the second British woman elected to the IOC in 1988, following Mary Glen Haig, a hospital administrator and foilist in 1982. Glen Haig had been only the third woman on the IOC, and still fewer than twenty percent of seats on most sports boards are held by women. Although geographic representation on governing boards has improved across most sports, gender equity remains a major problem. Sepp Blatter and Thomas Bach evidence the much longer era of “men in grey suits” at the helm of world sport. The problem is, they continue to act like aristocrats and heads of state funded by the subscriptions of ordinary participants.
–Jean Williams is author of A Contemporary History of Women’s Sport. She is senior research fellow at the International Centre for Sports History and Culture at De Montfort University.
Maybe I’m misremembering the early aughts, but it felt to me like American sports were once ruled by the big four – NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL. Even if I am misremembering those times, one thing’s for sure today: the NHL is definitely closer to a niche interest than an influencer of the broader culture, as the other leagues are. It’s not that Americans are afraid of goal-based, tie-prone sports with players imported from Europe – MLS has, I’d say, surpassed the NHL in terms of broader appeal, even though that league doesn’t have nearly the caliber of players that the NHL does. While hockey will always have its supremely dedicated fans, it lost its chance – for at least a generation – to appeal to the wider population with its work stoppages in 2004-05 (for a full season!) and 2012. I’m not sure what the fight was over, but whoever won those battles is still a loser in hockey’s greater war.
I thought carefully about this. The good-governance void in sport is astounding. Frequent work stoppages mar the NHL and NBA. Any discussion of Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame inevitably opens up a can of worms about PED use. There’s the NFL, which has proven that it is not only tone deaf on issues of player health and domestic violence, but constantly holds cities hostage by threatening relocation. The NCAA manages to both exploit and enable athletes, while the CIS, the governing body for university sport in Canada, lacks the funding to keep its best athletes from moving south. Bitter feuds and doping allegations plague the governing bodies of cycling and cricket, the latter of which has also been targeted by match fixers-cum-terrorists. Still, what goes on inside FIFA makes most scandals look amateur. The United Nations delineates eight characteristics of good governance. Even if you eliminated any reference to the latest World Cup bidding whitewash, FIFA would spectacularly and comically fail in all eight categories. There is no private sector firm that could survive the type of reputational damage FIFA has. And yet, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which anything significantly changes.
–Amanda Coletta is a graduate student in the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto. She is producer and host of the school’s podcast Global Conversations.
FIFA by a country mile. I wonder whether they set up their ethics committee as an ironic joke. Unfortunately, they are ungoverned and unaccountable and seem to do whatever they want to further their own interests. The only way they will change is if countries start boycotting their competitions.
–Emily Ryall is co-editor of the essay collection The Philosophy of Play. She is senior lecturer in philosophy at the University of Gloucestershire.
From corruption scandals to gender inequality to poor leadership, FIFA really wins the World Cup for Poor Sport Governance. Numerous academics and journalists have effectively torn down the many myths that FIFA has built about itself and exposed much of the corruption and poor governance in the organization. But it was comedian John Oliver who gave perhaps the greatest take-down of the organization and brought its many flaws to the attention of a wider North American audience.
–Mark Norman is editor of the website Hockey in Society. He is PhD candidate at the University of Toronto, specializing in sociocultural studies of sport.
The worst governed sport — which I would measure by the contrast between the joy of the game itself and the flaws of the organization that governs it — has to be global football. As John Oliver memorably pointed out this summer, FIFA is ridiculously corrupt, politically tone-deaf, and seemingly immune to reform. There are a billion of us worldwide who love the game at every level: whether pick-up games on the streets, youth leagues, school teams, professional leagues, professional club tournaments, or national teams. Yet FIFA is a joke. The organization hides behind its official status as a private organization under Swiss law. Its head, Sepp Blatter, talks like an unreconstructed chauvinist. While FIFA rakes in billions and controls every detail of World Cup tournaments, it refuses to be transparent. It won’t even release its own internal report on corruption in the flawed bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. It is hard to imagine how the organization could change unless we, the fans, stop watching—or national team federations threaten to pull out of the organization unless it changes.
–Scott Waalkes teaches political science at Malone University
In light of the release of FIFA’s World Cup bidding report, and the subsequent appeal over misrepresentation by the report’s chief investigator, it is hard to look past association football as the worst governed sport in the world. It is actually a hard fought contest, though – the NFL may run FIFA close. Their list of failures is extensive and far reaching: inadequately addressing the domestic violence case involving Ray Rice, scandals such as the New Orleans Saints’ bounty system, the ongoing concussion lawsuit filed by former players. However, when taking into consideration FIFA’s seeming inability (or unwillingness) to enforce adequate punishments on teams, fans, and players guilty of racial vilification, they may just win this particular competition.
–Keith Parry is co-editor of the essay collection Football and Communities Across Codes. He is lecturer in management at the University of Western Sydney.
If we could somehow turn this question into an actual league, it would prove to be the most competitive league on the entire planet. A rogues’ gallery of self-serving bureaucrats stalk the earth: Olympics, football, boxing, cycling, and the list goes on. On current form, I’d probably put FIFA at the top of the table (on goal difference), but that’s because they govern football, the sport that I love the most. The generic problem – as so often the case – is that the governors make sport serve an outside interest, with money corrupting, business polluting, the media colluding, and people in power forgetting that they are called to serve, not rule. Though I don’t know Sepp Blatter, the impression I get is that he’s no servant.
–Lincoln Harvey is author of A Brief Theology of Sport. He teaches systematic theology at St Mellitus College in London.
International cricket is currently a complete mess. There’s never been a fixed schedule, but the bigger countries used to have a regular rhythm of test series each summer and winter. Now each country is chasing as much television revenue as it can, and hell-bent on driving away ticket-buying spectators. For example, next winter England will play South Africa for the first time in four years – in the interim they will have played Australia thrice – and the tests that used to take three months will be squeezed into one. The administrators seem blind to the importance of history and tradition, and are fast turning their full-time international squads into the cricketing equivalents of the Harlem Globetrotters.
–David Papineau is professor of philosophy at King’s College London.