The quadrennial 2014 World Cup kicks off today in Brazil in a match between the host country and Croatia. In all, 32 national "football" teams will vie for the Cup over the next month, to be watched by hundreds of millions of fans around the world.
But as the Sunday Times of London has reported in recent days, the international governing body of the sport (FIFA) has come under a cloud of suspicion on the votes taken in 2011 on host countries for the next two World Cup competitions, 2018 in Russia and 2022 in Qatar. The charges need to be cleared up quickly.
Former U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia is conducting an internal investigation of the allegations of vote buying. His report is expected soon after the World Cup ends next month.
The World Cup is soccer's apex. It was recently greeted by Brazil President Dilma Rousseff with high-flown praise for its values of fair play, sportsmanship and more. In an article in the British newspaper The Guardian she wrote, "The 'cup of cups,' as we affectionately call it, will also be the cup for peace and against racism, the cup for inclusion and against all forms of discrimination, the cup for tolerance, dialogue, understanding and sustainability."
But it is also a major business. Hosting the World Cup is as big a deal as hosting the Olympics. This year FIFA reportedly expects revenues of $5 billion from the World Cup in Brazil. It has lucrative contracts with major international corporations like Sony, Visa, Adidas and Coca-Cola.
But there is little if any public accountability in the way that Zurich-based FIFA spends its money. The secrecy of soccer's governing body would be of secondary concern but for credible allegations of corruption.
The Sunday Times has reopened the 2011 bribery charge, citing "millions" of emails from within FIFA that document what the newspaper called "the plot to buy the World Cup."
The Times cites allegations that large bundles of cash were spread around in Africa and Asia to assure Qatar's selection as host for 2022. That choice has always been a puzzle because temperatures reach 120 degrees there during the summer, when World Cup matches are played. FIFA is already considering changing that year's Cup schedule to winter. Unfortunately, that is in the midst of most professional soccer league seasons.
The mounting scandal over the vote to select Qatar may require its nullification. Major sponsors Adidas, Sony and Visa are already calling for a thorough investigation of the charges.
They should keep the heat on until the whole story, however sordid, is told.
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