FIFA the Banana Republic

June 9th, 2011

What are the main principles of a banana republic? Ownership of a state ought to be one taken as a given, another perhaps being that the state ought to have a currency which is an international laughingstock. These principles would automatically disqualify FIFA, the international governing body of association football . . . or would they? FIFA, of course, is not a state, but rather a part-stakeholder and sometime benefactor of 208 states. That’s more than the United Nations. And currency? Currency itself is the commodity that FIFA trades – the bananas, if you will – previously in an indiscreet way, but now in such a brazenly open fashion that it makes a mockery of those people who ultimately fund the organisation: the fans.

But the chief principle of banana-ism is surely kleptocracy, whereby those in positions of power and influence use their time in office to maximize their own gains, always ensuring that any shortfall is made up by those unfortunates whose daily life involves earning money rather than making it, once again: the fans.

The ‘Republic’ makes sure that the trappings of accountability and democracy are left intact. In FIFA, a President, elected by a Congress, is joined by a General Secretary. This seems accountable, democratic, and almost state-like, but let’s look a little deeper at the structure. The Congress meets in ordinary assembly once a year, though extraordinary sessions may be called by the President, who also chairs what is called the Executive Committee, a sort of Cabinet to the Congress, and that Committee forms the main decision-making body. Thus, the overall structure is very much top-down from the President and not bottom-up from the Congress (let alone the fans or players themselves). The one principle that must not operate is accountability.

A case in point is the reigning President, Sepp Blatter, who was recently elected unopposed for the fourth time since first taking up the role in 1998. It’s the sort of record that Mugabe, Nguema , or Lukashenko might be proud of. In the most recent vote held last week, Mohammed bin Hammam, who played a key role in securing the 2022 World Cup for Qatar, withdrew as a candidate after being accused of bribing 25 FIFA officials to vote for his candidacy. Soon after, FIFA suspended bin Hammam and its own Vice-President Jack Warner from all involvement in the game. Remember: the structure within FIFA means that not a lot can happen within without the President’s blessing. Blatter then had a free ride to victory.

So, did Qatar buy its right to host the 2022 tournament? Is FIFA selling the right to host events as well as positions within its own structure? Secretary General Jerome Valcke issued a statement denying it was bribery that brought about the astounding result, but rather that the country had merely “used its financial muscle to lobby for support.” And so FIFA is now establishing its own lexicon of euphemisms.

Banana Republics do not open themselves up to any sort of external auditing, for the obvious reason that the numbers would not add up and heads would inevitably have to roll. However, and probably in an attempt to maintain or establish a veneer of accountability, they are often wont to some form of voluntary regulation. This is, if not always then more often than not, fundamentally flawed from the beginning because the institution being regulated can opt in or out of supervision. The fact that FIFA has now established such a body diminishes the perceived mandate of the program and weakens its effectiveness.

Heads will not roll, corruption will continue, and something is rotten in the state of association football. A money class creates and then fleeces the system while the very trunk of the game is permitted to rot. Mix that with kleptocracy and the sale of central positions and bang! You’re a banana republic.

  • JF

    well said. sounds like the politics of Montreal at times…btw, check out your typo in the last paragraph: it should read ‘roll’ not ‘role’ 😉