After John Oliver called himself a religious zealot over soccer in the HBO broadcast on June 8 of Last Week Tonight, can anyone trust that the comedian’s criticisms of FIFA are true? Among the critiques he leveled on the worldwide soccer body were extensive corruption, unfairness to host countries regarding financial and legal restrictions, and overall harm to the greater world. At one point he even equated the organization to a tyrannical world religion. Was it all fun and games or did his piece have its basis in fact?
When considering Oliver’s claims that FIFA is plagued by corruption one needs only to note the recent comments from World Cup sponsors Adidas and Visa. Visa asks for a stronger ethical standard from the organization and Adidas laments in a statement that the negativity surrounding the group is bad “for football” and “for FIFA and its partners.” On the other hand, FIFA president Sepp Blatter claims that the corruption allegations in the media revolving around the selection of Qatar for the 2022 World Cup are really just examples of racism from the opponents to the selected host country. As for whether there is any proof of corruption with regard to Qatar’s selection, a report on this matter is due from former New York district attorney Michael Garcia on the matter in a number of weeks.
While Blatter zealously defends his FIFA’s actions, criticisms of the organization still resound in this year’s host country, Brazil, where stories of riots over the financial injustices are truly threatening to overshadow those of its elaborate religious celebrations such as Mardi Gras. Many complain that the governing body makes far too much money for the work it does and leaves host countries to unfairly foot the bill. Others state however, that even without the association paying taxes to the host countries they still gain a tremendous amount of tax revenue and economic growth from the increased tourism. On this topic, Oliver points out that Brazil’s decision to build the Arena da Amazonia in Manaus was short-sighted but never really indicated that this was FIFA’s decision. Artur Vigilio Neto, Mayor of Manaus, worries that the stadium could become a “white elephant” once the World Cup concludes unless private interests move to make use of it. He does however, indicate he has high hopes that arrangements can be made to ensure the financial viability of the stadium.
Tied in with his overall criticism of the international association is Oliver’s comparison of FIFA to an organized religion, complete with infallible leader, grandiose delusions, and the ability to cause great hardship in its name. He cites the selection of Qatar for the 2022 World Cup as evidence of its lack of concern for the slave like working conditions of those who will likely be forced to do the work necessary to prepare the country to host the event. While the working conditions there now are deplorable by world standards, many hope that FIFA can be an instrument to encourage changes to the social and governmental structure of Qatar in the intervening years and help change those conditions. As with Oliver’s other rebukes, the truth is a matter of perspective and the passage of time.
Criticisms regarding religion much like zealotry regarding FIFA are not questions of truth, but belief. While Oliver claims to be a lover of soccer who despises Blatter and his organization, this may simply be attributable to the semantics of his particular bias. In the United States freedom of religion remains the individual’s right and therefore Oliver’s zealotry regarding soccer and FIFA will be accepted or rejected by each American based on his or her own point of view. Either way, Oliver makes a much better comedian than a priest.
By David Morris