With Sepp Blatter out, FIFA should start by stripping Qatar of 2022 World Cup

Columnist
Yahoo Sports

Just days ago Sepp Blatter smiled triumphantly after a near landslide re-election for a fifth term as FIFA president and arrogantly declared himself, "president of everybody."

Indictments and extraditions meant nothing. Scandal and open criminal cases on two continents were mere distractions. The howls of the West, where the wealthiest soccer playing countries tried to band together to unseat him, were discarded.

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Then Tuesday he up and quit, the 79-year-old running for the Swiss hills for some yet to be known reason … a gathering posse remaining the most likely, but yet unconfirmed choice.

"FIFA needs a profound restructuring," Blatter said Tuesday in Zurich, at a hastily scheduled news conference.

Perhaps for the first time Sepp Blatter said something undeniably true. And now there is a chance it can happen.

Blatter noted that he no longer enjoyed the world's support, no matter his "President of Everybody" stance. Many of the smaller, poorer countries of the 209 FIFA members were fine with the status quo because they received a disproportionate amount of the funding, and in a one-vote system, their influence mattered as much if not more than their bigger Western counterparts.

But those Western counterparts, including the United States, could flex their muscle in other ways, making life miserable for Blatter.

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"While I have a mandate from the membership of FIFA, I do not feel that I have a mandate from the entire world of football," Blatter said Tuesday.

Again, totally true.

Blatter promised to work for reform, which was so laughable but really, who cares? Let this tired old man be quiet. No one wants to hear from him. He can either wind up charged with a crime or he can fade off into irrelevance.

Sepp Blatter's announcement came as a shock to the soccer world. (AP)
Sepp Blatter's announcement came as a shock to the soccer world. (AP)

He was a clown. He is a clown. He always will be a clown.

So now FIFA will reconvene and do what it should've done last week: find a new president who can bring at least some semblance of order to the organization. Among the favorites would be Prince Ali bin Hussein of Jordan, a 39-year-old who ran against Blatter on a platform of transparency and forced a second ballot last week before stepping down because he had so little chance of winning.

Would an Ali presidency put an end to every example of corruption and kickbacks? Of course not.

He, or whoever is elected, should at least try.

And the new president should start by focusing on the 2022 World Cup bid process and pulling the event from Qatar while there is still plenty of time.

Money is at the center of the corruption charges handed down by the U.S. Justice Department last week. Fourteen people, either former FIFA executives or businessmen in the sport, were charged. Five guilty pleas were announced. One of the charged appears to have already reached a plea.

More will flip. It will get uglier, maybe even for Blatter. ABC News is reporting that Blatter is, in fact, a, subject of the continuing U.S. investigation, which has made Attorney General Loretta Lynch a global hero in ways she probably never imagined possible.

Still, money is money and while it's wrong for funds that should've been used for youth development, infrastructure, referees or actual grass playing surfaces for the coming Women's World Cup to wind up in private bank accounts or suitcases of cash, it's still just money.

Some Third World soccer official skimming off the top is wrong, but not an international tragedy.

Continuing with the Qatar World Cup is.

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Qatar never should've been awarded the event. Its 14-8 final vote victory over the United States was suspicious at the time and has grown only worse. It had no viable argument other than the World Cup had never been held in an Arab nation. There was a reason for that, however, and not just that summer temperatures that can climb to 130 degrees meant moving the event to November and December, screwing up tradition and messing with professional league seasons.

Foreign laborers work at the construction site of the al-Wakrah football stadium in Qatar. (AFP)
Foreign laborers work at the construction site of the al-Wakrah football stadium in Qatar. (AFP)

The real tragedy is an increasing number of deaths by migrant workers brought in from the world's poorest nations – Nepal, Sri Lanka, Burma and so on – to build unnecessarily opulent stadiums, rail lines, hotels and even entire cities needed because Qatar had no infrastructure in place at the time of the bid.

Qatar operates under the kafala labor system that is essentially the closest thing to forced labor modern society tolerates. So let's not tolerate it anymore.

It works like this: A young, industrious, driven man from impossible depths of poverty sees no other way to help his family than to go to the small, wealthy nation of Qatar and work construction. He must sign up with a recruiting company that in turn demands a large sum that must be repaid like a loan.

The man gets to Qatar, has his passport taken and his wages docked until the loan is repaid, usually a few years. The small amount of money he makes is even smaller and what's left goes back home to help a little. It's terrible, but there are few good options for workers in those parts of the world.

While working in Qatar he can live in labor camps that western media (from the BBC and London newspapers to Jeremy Schapp at ESPN) have exposed as wretched. The work is long and stressful. It takes place under extreme heat and with few safety precautions.

The results are often fatal – illness, heart problems, sheer exhaustion killing some of these men. There are falls and accidents because labor laws are almost non-existent.

The Qatar government itself said about 1,000 kafala laborers perished during the first two years of construction following the awarding of the World Cup. That put Qatar on pace for 5,000 dead by the time the soccer begins. And that's Qatar's own estimation.

Some of those weren't directly related to Cup construction, the government says, but does that make it any better? Is this what FIFA should be about?

Report after report from human rights groups such as Amnesty International cite inexcusable disregard for the workers. The latest was the refusal by the Qatar government to let Nepalese laborers directly affected by recent catastrophic earthquakes to return home briefly to mourn and help with reconstruction. Some lost their families, homes and villages. Sorry, Qatar said and FIFA silently approved, the construction timeline is too tight.

The entire thing is reprehensible. It's almost unfathomable. Thousands of the most disadvantaged people on Earth will die to build a pointless playground for the most advantaged people on Earth.

It's something out of the Middle Ages.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter pauses during a press conference on Tuesday. (AP)
FIFA president Sepp Blatter pauses during a press conference on Tuesday. (AP)

It's Sepp Blatter's FIFA taken to its ultimately awful conclusion.

So end it. No more Qatar. If it can be proven the bid was fixed, even better, but regardless this shouldn't be anything that FIFA, soccer fans or, most pointedly, corporate sponsors should condone.

Qatar isn't ready to be the world's host. Not when this is how it builds the house.

The United States, England, Canada, Germany and a bunch of other nations could easily host the 2022 World Cup, which is still seven years away. Stadiums and roads and know-how are all in place. The Cup could even return to Brazil, getting a little more out the white elephant stadiums it constructed for the 2014 tournament.

Where hardly matters as long as it isn't Qatar.

If FIFA wants to show that post-Blatter it stands for more than reforming executive councils and drafting anti-corruption standards that only matter a little, then start with the profound.

How about less poor laborers die so we can hold a soccer tournament?

That was too much to ask for old Sepp Blatter. How about the new guys?

 

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