FIFA and the Price of Corruption


This week, everyone was expecting a parade of corruption coming out of the world’s international football association, FIFA. Friday is set to be another glad-handing, palm-greasing electoral victory of serial villain Sepp Blatter, who has run without running (having no manifesto and refusing to debate) for a fourth term as president after reneging on his promise to retire. This sort of underhanded backroom dealing has marred FIFA for decades, an organization seems to be particularly immune to punishment.

What a surprise, then, to wake up on Wednesday to a perp walk featuring several high ups from the Fédération  — as high as a current and a former vice-president — courtesy of the Swiss and US governments. The charges are still fresh, and the pleas of innocence are still coming out, but it seems FIFA may have finally taken a bribe they can’t cover up.

The shouts, sighs and rolling eyes about America’s overstepping its authority or its misplaced sense of justice in going after a sports organization when it lets banks off with (relatively) small penalties suggests we need to reexamine exactly who FIFA is and what it has done to so very much deserve this.

With that in mind, I’ve assembled some numbers to show the price of FIFA’s corruption, so far as we know it to date:

14 — number to date of individuals indicted by the US in their case against FIFA, almost certain to increase

$110,000,000 — the amount of bribes the US alleges took place just around the CONCACAF office for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa

$5,720,000,000 — the amount of revenue the 2014 World Cup brought in

$1,520,000,000 — the amount of cash FIFA has in reserve to keep its “independence”

$200,000,000,000 — the amount Qatar plans to spend on the 2022 World Cup

69¢ — the wage per hour of a Qatari migrant worker

2,000,000,000 — the number of migrant workers earning that wage

4,000 — the number of migrant workers expected to die building the infrastructure for Qatar’s World Cup

$12,700,000,000 — Russian budget for the 2018 World Cup, considered too low now, resulting in the use of prison forced labor

???? — the total cost in bribes and favors to send the World Cup to Russia and Qatar

It’s more than fair to argue the US and other nations have been deliberately lax in their prosecution of banks and governmental corruption closer to home. But to argue FIFA doesn’t deserve this would be to ignore those numbers above. There are certainly banks as dirty as FIFA, but that doesn’t excuse the federation of international football associations from its crimes.

We should applaud America for using its reach for something so worthwhile. There are worse villains in the world, but none will mourn if we manage to slay this one first.


Required Reading: Desert by JMG Le Clezio


Europe is in the midst of a battle over its heart concerning immigrants. Despite most nations on the continent considering themselves homes to liberal, tolerant, and welcoming democracies, many of the parties gaining traction across the continent have done so by promoting far-right anti-immigration reforms. Golden Dawn in Greece, National Front in France, UKIP in the UK, Pegida in Germany: each party has a slightly different focus, but they all agree the problems of Europe come down to the immigrants.

Europe’s hesitation between indifference and outright distaste has led to some nasty results. Not only is hate crime up in many places, immigrants (or, more kindly, refugees) are finding little sympathy for their desperate and dangerous attempts to reach the security of European shores. Attempts to float over on rafts have been coming to disastrous ends for years, and that is partly due to the lack of funds from EU nations to prevent such tragedies.

Not that this is all outlandish cruelty on the part of Europeans. It’s easy to demonize immigrants in hard economic times. They are the most obvious target to mark as “other,” especially in old and formerly homogenous cultures. Those sympathetic to the rise of anti-immigration parties will remind their countrymen how many immigrants go on benefits, how much crime and poverty they bring with them, how different and sometimes intolerant the beliefs are they bring with them. And how tired everyone is of hearing the guilt they should bear for the deeds of their ancestors.

In such a climate, art has an important place in pushing against these easy arguments. JMG Le Clezio’s 1980 novel Desert does an amazing job of fighting back today.

The novel follows two narratives on opposite ends of the 20th century. The first takes place in the early years of the last century. A boy named Nour follows his family on a religious crusade against the “Christians:” the invading French military as they cross perilous desert to the face an inevitable, crushing defeat.

The other narrative lacks a definite date but is certainly in the postwar period, perhaps the ‘60s or ‘70s. Here, we meet a girl named Lalla: a descendent of the great mystics and warriors of Nour’s time. She travels from a shacktown outside an unnamed Moroccan city to the streets of Marseille where she observes the struggles of displaced people from all over the world.

The cost of colonialism is always on the fringes of both stories, ignorable for most of it if you don’t want to see it but constantly devastating to the people we encounter. Nour is on the march towards a war against little more than the euphemism “Christian,” but the broken and traumatized people he meets tell us how calamitous the French campaign has been. Lalla grows up surrounded by the shiftless and impoverished who are only in this position because no opportunities exist in the Project. The two stories are united by a sense of unquenchable thirst and hunger: a need that goes far deeper than physical wanting.

Throughout the story, both characters seek a true home. Lalla gazes out over the sea towards Europe and over the desert towards the Sahara her people once claimed as their own. Neither place quite belongs to her, both reject her in different ways. That she is caught between worlds at all is the result of Nour’s tale: the failure to keep the desert for the people it belonged to.

No one in the story ever finds the home they seek. The characters are always marching and searching, never quite comfortable in their settings. They are always telling tales of a time before or after, looking for a place in memory or fable: a place in the past or in the future where they belong. When they collide with their true position, they lose the last energy that they held within themselves. The broken soldiers and dying families that Nour watches in the desert stare out with hopeless eyes, moving forward because there is nothing else to do, certain only that they have no destination to go to.

Because, where are such people to go? Many around Lalla build up a romance about Europe. A single lyric is on Lalla’s lips throughout the story — Mediterrane-e-e. But once she crosses that sea, the dreams she heard as a child don’t match up to the tough and unloving city on the other side. The people are hard and indifferent. Immigrants of every stripe find there is no place for them in the city except in the poorest areas and amongst themselves.

And the spiritual strength that has always supported Lalla begins to fade just as it did from the warriors around Nour. Once the dream begins to die, she can do nothing but flee.

Le Clezio is expert at depicting the impossible life the peoples of former colonies are left to live. Their traditions and lands are gone, converted into something unrecognizable. They are poor and purposeless, alien in their own homes and filled with unexplainable longing. The logical choice is to go where life is said to be good. What they find when they arrive is they are no more welcome and of no more use on these new shores.

But Le Clezio is not interested in blame. The citizens of Marseille are simply busy and unaccustomed to helping the poor around them. When Lalla falls, many sympathetic eyes go out to her, though few stop to actually do anything. Still, there are moments of compassion from the pedestrians that are priceless to her. Not even the French military is depicted hatefully. From their perspective, they are chasing down men who have killed their governors and their soldiers. They see Nour’s people as barbarians known for their cruelty.

Desert seeks to avoid the simplicity of blame. It tries to explain how things are, not who should feel bad for them. Le Clezio gives Nour, Lalla, and their people dignity, originality, and humanity that can get lost in the complications of history. For the people caught between worlds today and in the past, we are left with some much needed compassion.

What the Democrats Could Learn from Labour

The Democrats are currently in the process of mulling over a rebellion against the president over trade deals with partners off our two shores: the TTIP agreement with Europe and the TPP with Asia.

Many will feel this potential turn to the political left is a long needed change from the policies of the last two Democrat presidents. Despite years of conservative hyperbole under Obama, the current occupant of the White House has mostly continued the decades-long stretch of moderation for his party. And with Hillary Clinton on the horizon, there’s a fear it will stretch on another eight years at least.

Those further to the left often feel their party have let them down on key issues. The Democrats, they feel, touch the big industries with soft kid gloves, make rare and ineffectual attempts at gun control or prison reform, and support war whenever it polls well. Even the signature achievement of the American Left in the last three decades — the passage of Obamacare — was at least somewhat a reworking of an old conservative plan.

American liberals seem to have finally become disillusioned by this trend and are in the first steps of making war on the establishment. The rise of combative figures like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders within the party and in the general media shows how far this movement has come. We’re still far away from a revolution the likes of the Tea Party, but moderates will ignore this trend at their own peril. Judging by Clinton’s opening bid for the nomination, she seems to have little else on her mind.

But as much as the party’s moderate, business-friendly streak can be taxing to those with a little more distance from center, they would do well to read the cautionary tale of Britain’s Labour party to see what happens when a moderates drift back to the left.

Many Brits have spent years disgusted by their major liberal party, Labour, or its reincarnation under Tony Blair, New Labour. Blair found the key to making Labour electable, jettisoning the more unappealing policies and stealing the more reasonable economic ones from their conservative competition, the Tories. Victories in 1997, 2001, and 2005 — the first for Labour in decades — quieted those who were uncomfortable with this shift. But with the debacle of the Iraq War, the explosive economic destruction of the recession, and the underwhelming unpersonality of Blair’s successor Gordon Brown, New Labour found itself under attack by the allies of old, liberal, election-losing Labour.

That faction won out after Brown failed to beat the Tory’s David Cameron in 2010. In the battle of its soul, Labour watched the marvelously symbolic competition of two brothers New Labour David and Old Labour Ed. Ed, in the end won.

And then, last week, lost. Devastatingly. It seems Britain continued to find real liberalism not interesting at all. For the first time in more than a century, a ruling party increased its seats in parliament after an election. Meanwhile, Labour lost seats, even a number that were considered safe (such as that held by Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, Ed Balls) because liberal Scotland turned out to be more interested in voting for national politics than liberal ones.

Liberal Labour now finds itself in tatters with no leader, no identity, and a long five years that could see Scotland vote to leave (again) and a vote to leave the European Union. In a vital election, Labour swung left, and it swung out.

So, where does that leave Democrats? It’s healthy for a party to disagree, to have multiple perspectives on where to go. And while Warren may be right about the new trade treaty Obama has been working on and is certainly right about other issues such as the importance of really addressing student debt, it is worth remembering that America is not represented by the left just as it isn’t represented by the Tea Party. Victory in Britain or America comes from the middle. David Cameron taught that to the Tories and will now have at least ten years to stamp his vision on the nation. Democrats n