Expert Commentary

Corruption, sports and FIFA: Research roundup

2015 roundup of research and analyses on corruption in sports, with a focus on soccer and the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA).

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Joseph “Sepp” Blatter first became president of the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) in 1998. In 2015, seventeen years later, he was elected for a fifth term, only to suddenly resign just four days later. While FIFA and its partners were no strangers to accusations of corruption — indeed, Blatter’s first election involved charges of bribery — his sudden decision came on the heels of a far-reaching criminal indictment, filed May 20 in the Eastern District of New York. While Blatter himself wasn’t named, 14 federation officials and associates were. On May 27, many were arrested in a dawn raid while staying at five-star Swiss hotel.

The complex investigation was coordinated among the U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, the FBI and the IRS. In a press conference, Lynch described FIFA’s corruption as “rampant, systemic and deep-rooted.” The charges in the indictment included “solicitation, offer, acceptance, payment, and receipt of undisclosed and illegal payments, bribes, and kickbacks” as well as “the active concealment of foreign bank accounts; the structuring of financial transactions to avoid currency reporting requirements; bulk cash smuggling; the purchase of real property and other physical assets; the use of safe deposit boxes; income tax evasion; and obstruction of justice.” Blatter attempted to distance himself from the accusations, to no avail.

In particular, the suspects are accused of benefitting certain countries and regions to host soccer events. The process that led to FIFA’s simultaneously awarding the 2018 cup to Russia and the 2022 contest to Qatar was steeped in controversy, and FIFA officials have said that the countries may lose their host status if proof of bribery emerges.

Mass sporting events are popular in every sense of the word, from the public at large to elected officials and business interests, and immense amounts of money, power and influence can be at stake. Previous research has studied the economic impact of the Olympics and found mixed results at best. Huge infrastructure projects can be immensely profitable, however, and the Associated Press revealed evidence of widespread corruption in Brazil in the buildup to the 2014 World Cup. A 2014 study in Public Administration Review found that, similarly, the most-corrupt U.S. states tend to spend more on construction projects because they present a wealth of opportunities for bribery, kickbacks and more. Host countries often hope to boost their international stature through such high-profile events, but many — including Russia and Azerbaijan — are not known for their commitment to transparency.

Below is a selection of recent research and analyses relating to corruption in sports, with a focus on soccer, that can help inform reporting on the system and its challenges.


“Corruption in Sport: From the Playing Field to the Field of Policy”
Masters, Adam. Policy and Society, 2015, Vol. 34, Issue 2. doi: 10.1016/j.polsoc.2015.04.002.

Abstract: “How is corruption in sport evolving into a global public policy issue? In the past century, four trends have affected sport according to Paoli and Donati (2013): de-amateurization at the turn of the 20th century, medicalization since the 1960s, politicization and commercialization to the point where sport is now a business worth more than US$141 billion annually. Each of these trends had a corrupting effect on what is generally perceived as a past ‘golden age’ of sport. In the 21st century more public funding is being directed into sport in the developed and developing world. As a result this paper will argue organized sport has entered a fifth evolutionary trend – criminalization. In this latest phase, public policy needs to grapple with what constitutes corruption in what has historically been a private market.”


“Investigating Corruption in Corporate Sport: The IOC and FIFA”
Jennings, Andrew. International Review for the Sociology of Sport, December 2011, Vol. 46, No. 4 387-398

Abstract: “Global sport governing bodies proclaim lofty ideals and espouse generic principles that set high moral standards for themselves and others. None more so than two of the world’s largest, most influential, and most high profile sporting organizations, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA). Behind the façades of principled rhetoric is often something quite different. Focusing on some of the most powerful figures who have walked the corridors of power in the IOC and FIFA, using the methods of investigative journalism, this article investigates the gap between principle and practice in corporate sport. It concludes by arguing that a lack of transparency and accountability in these global sport governing bodies goes hand in glove with a propensity for corruption. It further urges sports academics to take a much more critical approach to the task of researching and investigating power relations in world sport.”


“Deceptive Development and Democratization: Stadium Construction and Securitization in the FIFA World Cup Host Countries of South Africa and Brazil”
Peet-Martel, Jasper. Journal of Politics and Society, Columbia University’s Academic Commons, 2014. doi: 10.7916/D8QF8RJB.

Abstract: “The past few decades has seen increasing attention given toward mega sporting events in the context of development. As countries, especially in developing regions of the world, strive to enhance their political, economic, and social standing, hosting mega events is viewed as an opportune path to growth. However, this view often does not take into consideration how fall-out, particularly for local communities, affects a country’s overall experience with the event it hosts. The question I pose to test these two competing views of mega event hosting is the following: are mega-sporting events, specifically the FIFA World Cup, a viable avenue for furthering development and democratization? I examine the dual processes of stadium development and securitization for the 2010 and 2014 FIFA World Cups to answer this question, and argue that the neoliberal governance that drives FIFA World Cup securitization and stadium construction results in significant consequences for local development and compromises democratization for developing host countries.”


“From the 2014 World Cup to the 2016 Summer Olympics: Brazil’s Role in the Global Anti-Corruption Movement”
Spalding, Andrew Brady; Barr, Patrick; Flores, Albert; Freiman, Shaun; Gavin, Kat; Klink, Tyler; Nichols, Carter; Reid, Ann; Van Orden, Rina. International Law, 2015

Abstract: “Brazil has the rare fortune of hosting the world’s two highest-profile sporting events back-to-back: the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics. So too does it find itself in the midst of an historic anti-corruption movement. As recent Olympics have reminded us, mega sporting events can gauge the host-country’s effectiveness in combating corruption. This paper, co-authored by a professor and eight students, uses the window between the World Cup and Olympics to reflect on Brazil’s successes to date and its remaining challenges. It briefly surveys recent allegations of corruption in international sports generally and the Olympics specifically, and discusses Brazil’s recent anti-corruption reforms. It concludes with a series of research questions that the authors will continue exploring in the months prior to the 2016 Games.”


“Does FIFA’s Corruption Hurt the Beautiful Game?”
Davis, Noah; Cappello, Juan C. Americas Quarterly, Summer 2013, 7.3, 22-25.

Excerpt: “[C]orruption at the highest levels of FIFA reduces the incentive to deal with problems on the field that affect fan experience, namely racism on the pitch and match-fixing. The organization does an excellent job in the eyes of fans, players and advertisers, with its range of tournaments and competitions, international friendlies, and massive events like the 2013 Confederation Cup and 2014 World Cup in Brazil…. FIFA’s immense geographical reach has given it the financial resources and clout to withstand any outside efforts to impose reforms — and to argue it is capable of policing itself.”


“World Cup 2026 Now Accepting Bribes: A Fundamental Transformation of FIFA’s World Cup Bid Process”
Becker, Ryan. International Sports Law Journal, April 2013, Vol. 13, Issue 1-2, 132-147.

Abstract: “The perception that football is corrupt became a reality after the allegations of bribery and vote trading that surrounded the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bid process. This article argues that to restore the public confidence in FIFA, specifically in the World Cup bid process, FIFA must aggressively punish individuals, nations and confederations guilty of accepting or offering kickbacks, bribes or vote trading, as well as protecting those guilty, or reasonably believed to be guilty, of such crimes. To assure that such a fundamental shift will occur, FIFA must work with other sports governing bodies to establish a World Anti-Corruption Agency. Additionally, FIFA must internally change its World Cup vote procedures to ensure fairness and transparency…. This article outlines the current rules and regulations that govern the selection of the host nation for World Cup, addresses the controversy centered on the selection process for 2018 and 2022 World Cup, and recommends a three-part solution detailing the necessary steps both FIFA and FIFA members must take to ensure the integrity of the FIFA World Cup bid process.”


“Corruption Does Not Pay: An Analysis of Consumer Response to Italy’s Calciopoli Scandal”
Babatunde Buraimo, Giuseppe Migali, Rob Simmons. Conference proceedings, “The Informal Economy, Tax Evasion and Corruption,” September 2012.

Abstract: “The literature on economics of corruption is lacking in evidence on consumer responses to identifiable scandals. The Calciopoli episode affecting Italian football in the 2005/06 season serves as an opportunity for an empirical investigation into consumer (fan) behavior following punishments imposed by the Italian league on clubs whose officials were found guilty of corrupt practices. Using a difference-in-difference estimation method, where the convicted teams are the treatment group, we find that home attendances for treatment teams fell relative to control group teams defined as those clubs not subject to league-imposed punishment. We show further that the fall in attendances identified with Calciopoli punishment resulted in non-trivial gate revenue reductions. Our results suggest that a sizable number of fans of the punished clubs were subsequently deterred from supporting their teams inside the stadium.”


“Using Forecasting to Detect Corruption in International Football”
Reade, J. James; Akie, Sachiko. Research Program on Forecasting, George Washington University.

Abstract: “This paper further develops methods to detect corrupt activity using data from 63 bookmakers covering over 9,000 international football matches since 2004, in particular assessing a claim made in early 2013 by Europol that the outcomes of almost 300 international matches since 2009 were fixed. We explore the divergence between two kinds of forecasts of match outcomes: those by bookmakers, and those constructed by econometric models. We argue that in the absence of corrupt activity to fix outcomes, these two forecasts should be indistinguishable as they are based on the same information sets, and hence any divergence between the two may be indicative of corrupt activity to fix matches. In the absence of corroborating evidence we cannot declare any evidence procured in our manner as conclusive regarding the existence or otherwise of corruption, but nonetheless we argue that is it indicative. We conclude that there is mild evidence regarding potentially corrupt outcomes, and we also point towards yet more advanced strategies for its detection.”


Keywords: sports, corruption, infrastructure, Olympics, world cup, South Africa, Brazil, Russia, Qatar, Sochi, Baku.

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