As the 2018 FIFA World Cup gets underway in Russia, FIFA delegates have met and agreed to stage a bloated 48-team World Cup final competition in 2026 in Canada, USA and Mexico. This will not only be the largest World Cup finals ever staged, but also the first to be shared between three countries.
The reason behind this decision is obvious: money…and loads of it. Over US$14 billion is expected to be generated by the 2026 event, with FIFA making a cool $11 billion in profit. No one should therefore be surprised by this latest development.
Once upon a time FIFA was an amateurish setup run by upper class men in blazers who believed that this was all about sport with a little self-promotion added in. The arrival after 1974 of such gangsters as João Havelange and Sepp Blatter changed everything, with the financial potential of football being used to suck in big business across the board.
The vicious commercialisation of football was soon underway, with ever-larger monster TV deals, sponsorship tie-ins with international companies, and all the rest. Being part of FIFA started to be very lucrative.
Havelange and Blatter realised that it would be possible to suck up to the big football associations, whilst also creating links with associations in smaller countries who - in return for some “considerations” - would always vote the right way when required.
Over the years, the votes as to where each tournament would be staged have proved to be the most controversial aspect of FIFA’s operation. Indeed, virtually every winning bid over the last two decades has attracted some questions over how they were awarded.
Particularly questionable was the decision to award the 2022 competition rights to Qatar, with clear evidence emerging of bribery and other dodgy practices. Ironically, the case for awarding the staging of a World Cup to an Arab country is itself strong and long overdue. But, as usual with FIFA, money talks - and Qatar has loads of that.
FIFA itself has been trying to pretend that all its woes are behind it. Such an approach is par for the course for the FIFA bosses.
When the issue of racism in football was raised they said they would look into it and set up a commision, which in due course announced that the problem was solved: end of story. Yet one England footballer has said that he does not want his family to attend the competition to see him play because of the expected racism from the stands and outside the ground.
FIFA are certainly not keen to be reminded of the mass indictments brought by US federal prosecutors against FIFA heads in 2015. Both Havelange (who helpfully died in 2016) and Blatter were named as being involved in malpractice; Blatter and several others had to step down from their positions. The US investigation continues. But for FIFA it is business as usual.
This has been seen with the latest decision over the 2026 competition. Having a 48-team final helps resolve the problem of financial strategies going astray as a result of certain countries failing to qualify. The absence of countries like Holland and Italy in this year’s competition in Russia will not worry FIFA so much as having the USA missing as well. The World Cup is all about creating markets, and the US (along with China) matters most in that respect. So staging the 2026 competition in a “market strip” of Mexico, USA and Canada solves a lot of problems for the big business interests being wined and dined over the next few weeks.
At this level, football is no longer a game but a commercial mega-industry. Products such as Messi and Neymar generate millions of dollars just by themselves. The potential for future profits remains strong.
The only people missing out are the football fans who are the main source of all this wealth in the first place. Football is supposed to be the people’s game. But at every level the people are kept out, left to have their money sucked out of them in return for acting as extras in the TV spectacle that is the World Cup.
Supporters are all too aware of just how much money now dominates the game, with the rotten cesspit that is FIFA and all its cronies at the top. We need to take it back.