FIFA’s corruption becomes immediately obvious when viewing how many countries were passed over as potential hosts of the 2022 World Cup in favor of Qatar, where the average temperature in June and July is over 104 degrees Fahrenheit.
I’m not saying Qatar can’t push enough money forward to create a decent World Cup, but there were some other obvious contenders that were snubbed — countries where soccer is already huge, or on the rise. (The New York Times has an interesting feature on Qatar’s focused effort to promote soccer and win the bid. Some good things, but FIFA could have waited another round to get a clearer picture of Qatar’s progress.)
But that sort of corruption far from FIFA’s only problem. This World Cup gave plenty of reminders of the organization’s dysfunction.
Saturday’s third-place game gave the most recent example of FIFA inconsistency. Fortunately, it was not enough to affect the outcome of the match.
In just the second minute, Thiago Silva — just back after his disqualification from the semifinal due to two yellow cards — pulled Arjen Robben to the ground as he entered the box. Under almost any circumstances, that calls for a send-off, whether or not the foul happened in the penalty box.
It was obvious from the assessment of a penalty shot where the ref believed the foul occurred, but the he curiously did not show Silva a red card. The tackle was flagrant and prevented an attempt on goal. That should always translate to a red card. Soon after, Arjen Robben committed a foul in the ninth minute that didn’t seem incredibly flagrant, but he was booked.
As Jon Champion said immediately following, “We’ve had one yellow card in the opening 8.5 minutes that seems harsh and another that seems incredibly lenient, both in Brazil’s favor.”
But once again home field advantage wasn’t enough for Brazil. Holland’s Robin Van Persie scored three minutes in on the penalty kick awarded by Silva’s ridiculous challenge, and Blind punched in his first international goal in the 17th minute en route to a 3-0 victory.
I can’t speak to the rest of the game, but the way things started (through the 30th minute), it looked like the Netherlands were overpowering both Brazil and its home field edge.
After holding the German team to one goal in the last game of group play — the same team that beat Portugal 4-0 and later demolished host country Brazil 7-1 — U.S. goalie Tim Howard stopped an unbelievable 16 goals against Belgium. He singlehandedly kept the U.S. in that match and had made 17 more saves in the previous three matches, including eight against Germany. The U.S. only stood a chance because Howard stood between the posts. Yet Howard was not in consideration for the tournament’s Golden Glove award.
Who decides these things? A goalie who puts up what is undoubtedly one of the top three performances by a keep in World Cup history and has a fairly solid rest of the Cup isn’t one of the final candidates for an award recognizing outstanding performances in goal? That’s worse than even the most undeserved Gold Glove in baseball.
Luis Suarez bit Italian Giorgio Chiellini in the last match of group play. He was banned for four months.
In a vacuum, that seems pretty fair. But it wasn’t the first time it had happened, as an early BBC report of the suspension mentioned:
Suarez was banned for 10 games for biting Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic during a Premier League match in 2013 and was also suspended for seven games for biting PSV Eindhoven’s Otman Bakkal while playing for Ajax in 2010.
There’s no way a biting incident should have occurred on a soccer pitch the first time, let alone a third time — in a World Cup game! FIFA’s light-handedness is detrimental to those on the pitch who have done nothing wrong, putting them at risk.
It’s also bad for men like Suarez, who should have been able to learn their lesson the first time around. Did no one follow up? Was there no further evaluation? FIFA even got another chance to stop his antics before Suarez humiliated himself on the international stage. But now, the bite has become Suarez’s legacy.
Dealing with dysfunction
FIFA continues to prove that it’s not always easy to keep organized all aspects of an institution. Organizational communication presents a number of challenges that many groups struggle to bring into clear focus. Catering to the desires of multiple countries also can be a difficult task. But that by no means excuses the federation from lax punishments, grossly incompetent voting methods and inconsistent officiating.
FIFA has plenty of work to do in the next several years to bring everything within its scope under control. I would be pleasantly surprised, however, if that were to happen within the next three World Cups. With these kinds of pervasive problems, proposing and enacting a 20-year plan seems more appropriate.
Dan Johnson is editor-in-chief of Three for Ten Sports and former managing editor of The Collegian at Grove City College.