– Bill Currie, BC Soccer Web Editor in Chief
If all goes to plan, a sold out crowd and millions around the world will focus on Vancouver’s BC Place Stadium on July 5. Together, they’ll enjoy watching the two best teams on the planet compete to become the Women’s World Cup Champion. It should be the pinnacle moment of one of the biggest sporting events ever held in this country. It should be a moment that inspires young players, especially young women, to see sport as a way to pursue higher goals in life.
It’s certain that the players who make it to the Women’s World Cup Final, along with those who competed up to that stage, won’t disappoint. Meanwhile, in the luxury boxes above the pitch, there’ll be men who’ll enjoy all of the perks of FIFA privilege, yet some might not be able to travel an hour down Highway 99 without finding themselves in a U.S. prison. They’ve reaped these rewards and risks by exploiting the game we love to an obscene degree, and by dropping all pretense to integrity.
The arrests on FIFA’s Black Wednesday are a positive first step. The FBI and U.S. Department of Justice have done more for FIFA reform in one night than all of the anti-corruption probes and committees over the years combined. The rocks have been unturned. The guilty are talking. The whispers and innuendos that sometimes escaped the halls of CONCACAF, CONMEBOL and FIFA in the last 20 years are now proven or about to be tested as evidence in a court of law. We’re told this is just the start. It’s the greatest test ever in saving the integrity of our game.
And it is our game; not FIFA’s. The overwhelming majority of people involved in soccer are grassroots players and volunteers. They’re ex-professional players who become coaches to pass on their love of the game to a new generation. They’re promising prospects who are told that if they work hard, train and play well, this can get them ahead in life. They’re supporters who give their all to cheer their club or country to victory. They’re administrators who earnestly keep leagues and associations running. They’re referees who constantly study the laws of the game and uphold the integrity of the game. They’re you. You are soccer. When someone is stealing from soccer, they’re stealing from you.
As the DOJ pointed out on Wednesday, when a FIFA official takes a bribe, that’s money that should have been used to build soccer somewhere in the world. When a marketer pays a bribe to gain the rights of a major tournament, that’s money that should have gone to help soccer. But that’s just cash. Easy come, easy go. The price we pay when we lose integrity in soccer is devastating and limitless.
If a player or referee takes cash to ensure a result, that game is destroyed, and games after that are questioned. If a broadcaster pays a bribe to lock in media rights to a FIFA tournament, the real price is their silence or spin when FIFA news events reflect badly on them. If a dictator can use the biggest tournament in the world to improve their domestic stature, or the king of a small, oil-rich nation can use it to buy global legitimacy for their slave state, it is clear there is no bottom to how low it can go.
It’s our joy of the game, and the integrity we bring to it that makes it the world’s game. That needs to be protected at all cost. No World Cup, no sponsorship, no Confederation or FIFA is worth keeping if the expense is integrity. Nothing in this world is pure, and fair, proper global governance of soccer is the preferred way to go. But FIFA and the Confederations cannot continue to damage our game. The coming days will tell us if they’re worth saving.
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