This week’s FIFA-related headlines could be ripped from an entirely different section of this newspaper. FIFA President Gianni Infantino helped force out a judge from the organization’s ethics committee, as well as its chief prosecutor, even as the latter said there were “hundreds” of ethics committee cases still pending.
Another senior organization figure who was working with FIFA’s governance structure also was fired, reportedly because of Russian unhappiness with some of his initiatives. And all of this was before Infantino bashed these stories and others by calling them “fake news” and “alternative facts.”
The names in charge of FIFA have changed, after a U.S. investigation helped bring down a number of senior figures, but the organization as a whole still is broken. FIFA always will be broken as long as the World Cup makes money, and there is no changing that.
At its heart, FIFA exists solely to distribute the riches from the World Cup, its flagship tournament. Some of this means deciding which country gets to host the World Cup and reap benefits for itself. Some of it just means disbursing the untold millions of dollars that the organization itself earns. Is it any wonder that an organization with no oversight and ridiculous amounts of money became a hotbed for corruption?
Infantino, who was elected as FIFA’s president on promises of reform, has been no different. He helped consolidate power by introducing a “FIFA Bureau” consisting solely of him and the leaders of the six regional confederations. He’s pushing out people who disagree with him. Expecting him to be a major departure from the self-serving leaders who came before him, or the ones who will come after him, is and was simply foolish.
Sponsors, especially from nations outside Russia and Qatar — the locations of the next two World Cups — have been more hesitant to jump on board with an organization that is consistently in the headlines for the wrong reasons.
That said, huge companies such as VISA, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and Anheuser-Busch all remain in the sponsorship fold. It’s difficult to imagine that FIFA bigwigs are feeling that much pressure. There will be plenty of money to go around, even if the Russian tournament next summer proves slightly less popular than previous incarnations.
Without a major change in the popularity of the World Cup, there will be no changing FIFA. As long as the money rolls in, there will be no stopping whoever happens to be in power. Already the organization seems determined on bloating the tournament to 48 teams for the 2026 edition. That will lead to a far more boring tournament, but more matches, and thus more revenue. FIFA will continue squeeze and prod its golden goose, because that’s exactly what the organization is set up to do.
• U.S. Soccer is at it again, cannibalizing the National Women’s Soccer League for its own financial gain. The American governing body announced that the U.S. women’s national team will play Brazil, Japan and Australia in a tournament July 27 to Aug. 3, in the middle of the NWSL season. NWSL clubs will lose their best players for at least two games. I’ll never understand why U.S. Soccer helps fund the NWSL, then turns around and takes the league’s best players for weeks at a time.
• Lyon dominates women’s soccer in Europe, but owner Jean-Michel Aulus always is on the hunt for better players, with Twitter serving as his main recruiting method. U.S. Soccer filed an official tampering complaint with FIFA this week after Aulus tried to tweet-recruit Portland and USA midfielder Allie Long, who is under contract with the national team and allocated to the NWSL.
• Chelsea, sitting atop the Premier League table since November, clinched the championship with two matches to play with a 1-0 victory at West Bromwich Albion on Friday, the lone goal coming when substitute Michy Batshuayi scored in the 82nd minute. It’s Chelsea’s fifth Premier League crown and second in three seasons, but a big bounce-back after a 10th-place finish last season.
WEEKEND WATCH GUIDE
Premier League: Swansea City at Sunderland, 9 a.m. Saturday, NBCSN. Sunderland was the first team relegated from the Premier League this year, but it immediately started ruining things for fellow strugglers by beating Hull City last week. Now the Black Cats can do the same to Swansea City.
Premier League: Hull City at Crystal Palace, 6 a.m. Sunday, NBCSN. Crystal Palace might like to believe it’s safe from relegation, but a home loss to Hull would drag it back into the final-week relegation picture; a win would see it to safety. This game will feel like a relegation playoff.
Serie A: Juventus at Roma, 3 p.m. Sunday, beIN. Juventus is into the Champions League final, but the Old Lady hasn’t quite wrapped up yet another Serie A title. A draw would be enough to give them a sixth consecutive title and consign Roma to yet another top-three consolation, the club’s fourth in four years.
MLS: New York City at Dallas, 7 p.m. Sunday, FS1. Dallas appears to be the class of MLS again this year. NYC, hovering around the top of the Eastern standings, will get an early test in what could be a preview of an MLS Cup final. This is as close to a marquee matchup as you can get.