Football, money and politics

Several days before the FIFA’s presidential elections, one of the biggest corruption scandals in the history of the organization has burst out.

At the request of US authorities seven football officials allegedly involved in money-laundering and bribery have been arrested by Swiss police. Nevertheless, Joseph Blatter, the 79-years old head of the wallowing in corruption Football Empire has been re-elected.

The Russian president Vladimir Putin was the only head of state to congratulate Blatter on winning his fifth term as FIFA head publicly. When the US filed charges against the FIFA’s functionaries for signing over $150 million worth of illegal contracts, Putin claimed that this was “clearly an attempt to block the reelection of Blatter as president of FIFA”. He also said that Blatter was under pressure of those who want Russia to be banned from hosting the 2018 World Cup. The Russian officials are sure – the US uses just an opportunity to “extend their jurisdiction to other states”. Why does Putin back Blatter? There are many reasons for their friendship.

Sepp Blatter became an ideal “business partner” for Putin, who was ready to get the right to host the World Cup at any price. Blatter was the first to organize the championships in Asia and Africa and first to turn the noble idea of promoting football worldwide into a well-run money-laundering scheme. The International Federation of Association Football most of the time works with its partners inside the country hosting the World Cup. The government of the country may ignore or even change some of the laws for instance those concerning construction of sport facilities or ensuring security.

Having exceeded his authority while serving as Prime Minister, Putin signed the Federal Law “On the preparation and holding of the FIFA 2018 World Cup in the Russian Federation and Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation”. The law gives a lot of financial and commercial guarantees to the FIFA’s partner companies and organizations. Exemptions from paying taxes and customs duties, possibility to conduct banking transactions and convert currencies without any restrictions, “protection of commercial rights”, obligation to provide an insurance coverage and compensations to FIFA or any of its partners in case of economic losses is not a complete list of preferences Russia granted to the organization. FIFA thus got enormous business opportunities in the country.

As the FBI’s investigation continues, Russia and Qatar could lose the right to host the World Cup, if bribery is found in the bidding process. Though Russian authorities claim that the investigation will not prevent the country from the preparations for the 2018 championship, Putin’s reaction displayed his fears. The World Cup means a lot to him and loosing it could become another failure on the international scene. Football has long turned into something more than just a sport. It is now a real instrument of soft power and yet another sticking point between Russia and the West. Confronting it once again, the President shows to the world and especially to his people that a strong leader can defend interests of the country, even if they are useless for the country itself.