On sportswashing, FIFA, and being a critical consumer of the sports you love

Now that the World Cup is over, The Onion wasted no time providing the biting commentary they are so excellent at, with a fake (but at the same time oh-too-real) article entitled, "FIFA Officials Open For 2030 World Cup Bribes." If you've been focusing solely on the game and have managed to somehow avoid hearing about the corruption within FIFA and the many issues the World Cup has had with human and labor rights violations, I urge you to spend some time learning about exactly what's wrong with FIFA. 

First, it's important to learn the concept "sportswashing," which FIFA and the World Cup spectacles basically embody. For an academic take, check out the recent article in the journal Sport, Ethics and Philosophy, by Kyle Fruh, Alfred Archer, and Jake Wojtowicz (2022), entitled "Sportswashing: Complicity and Corruption." If you don't want to read an academic article, the trio also recently published a piece in Liberal Currents, where they explain:

Sportswashing is an attempt to distract from, minimize, or normalize wrongdoing through engagement in sport, not unlike whitewashing, although more specific in its methods, and also related to greenwashing, although not similarly restricted in its scope to environmental sins. This is importantly reputational: sportswashers want other people to care less about their wrongdoing without having to address that wrongdoing through reform and reparation. Whether this is because they want to be seen as desirable destinations for tourism or unproblematic partners for trade, the sportswasher wants to make sure that the bad things they are doing don't negatively affect them.

Next, to take a deep dive into the history of FIFA and the World Cup, here are three informative and accessible resources: (1) World Corrupt podcast, (2) FIFA Uncovered, a four-part docuseries on Netflix, and (3) the book Red Card, by Ken Bensinger.

The World Corrupt podcast is a seven-part podcast by Men in Blazers and Crooked Media, which describes it this way:

The world's most-watched sporting competition this year will not be a feel-good affair. FIFA, soccer's corrupt governing body, awarded the 2022 edition of the World Cup to Qatar via bribery. The teams, players, and fans of the game must now grapple with the complexities of an ethically fraught, morally bankrupt tournament already soaked in blood and oil– a sportswashed public relations exercise for Qatar that has cost an untold amount of migrant workers their lives since the announcement was made.

This dilemma is at the core of World Corrupt, a joint effort from Men in Blazers and Crooked Media. The series will be hosted by two friends, Men in Blazers' Roger Bennett and Pod Save the World's Tommy Vietor. Roger's deep understanding of football history and Tommy's geopolitical analysis will combine to help listeners understand the tectonic plates shifting under the sporting events they love, and empower them to simultaneously revel in the sporting genius on display, and take action against the grave injustices that have been wrought.

FIFA Uncovered, on Netflix, provides a history of FIFA and its many ongoing scandals. The Guardian describes the series:

Although it drags in its overdetailed final episode and could have been trimmed from four hours to three, Fifa Uncovered for the most part is a queasily thrilling chronicle of allegations and fishy coincidences, with cash appearing in brown envelopes when a big vote is taking place, and disappearing when it ought to be going to worthy development projects. The brazen wrongdoing of some of the individuals involved gives the programme the addictive repulsiveness of a true-crime documentary.

It is a bleak picture, summed up by one of the series' premier whistleblowers, former Fifa media director Guido Tognoni. "If you ask if Fifa can ever get away from corruption, you have to ask if the world can ever get away from corruption," he says. "No, it can't. As it is structured now: no. Not possible."

Finally, the book Red Card: How the U.S. Blew the Whistle on the World's Biggest Sports Scandal, by Ken Bensinger, provides an investigative sports journalist's take on FIFA's corruption. Publisher Simon and Schuster describes the book:

The FIFA case began small, boosted by an IRS agent's review of an American soccer official's tax returns. But that humble investigation eventually led to a huge worldwide corruption scandal that crossed continents and reached the highest levels of the soccer's world governing body in Switzerland.

The Guardian, describing FIFA Uncoveredstates: "This queasily thrilling documentary shows the global expansion of the beautiful game – and it's so shocking it'll make you ashamed to be a fan." I'm not saying you should be ashamed to be a fan, but I will argue that if you're going to be a fan, you should at least take responsibility for learning about the organization and its events you're so fond of.