Santoro Speaks: FIFA needs to practice what they preach

Stop for a second and think of the term “democracy.” It’s one that almost every American has ingrained into their minds practically since birth, and one that we associate with freedom, strength and courage. Some of the most powerful countries in the world are governed by democracies, and they pride themselves on promoting open and transparent governments that allow their citizens to ask hard questions. But the reality of every government in the world is that they keep secrets. FIFA, or the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, is the governing body of world soccer, and it runs itself mainly as a democracy, albeit highly corrupt.

FIFA has some big secrets about the upcoming 2018 and 2022 World Cups, and they aren’t willing to give them up. Earlier last week, FIFA prosecutor Michael Garcia put the finishing touches on a secret investigative report into the alleged World Cup corruption. FIFA, however, is bent on keeping it under wraps, and Sunil Gulati, president of the U.S. Soccer Federation, is urging them to reconsider. As of now, the 2018 and 2022 World Cups are set to be hosted by Russia and Qatar, respectively.

From the offset, these choices both seem fine. Russia is a large country with a rich sport tradition and vast infrastructure, while Qatar is considered the Bill Gates of countries on planet earth. But, as usual, everything is not as it seems.

Despite the fact that the Russia-Ukraine conflict has reached a ceasefire agreement, government officials around the globe have expressed concern about allowing Russia to host the worlds biggest sporting event. Even Senator John McCain, who probably isn’t the biggest soccer fan in the world, thinks Russia’s aggressive behavior toward Ukraine should be punished by stripping the country of its hosting rights.

“It absolutely should be reconsidered,” McCain said in an interview with ESPN and ABC. “Is it appropriate to have this venue in Russia at this particular time, and aren’t there other countries that would be far less controversial?”

Before there can be any talk of moving the venues, FIFA needs to disclose the report to the public. Good democracy promotes the idea of transparency, and according to FIFA, the organization is “firmly committed to the principles of good governance, transparency and zero tolerance towards any wrongdoing.” This dishonesty is inexcusable for an organization that is the face of the biggest sport in the world.

Billions of people watch and play soccer every day, and they deserve to have a governing body that can do the right thing, even when money is dangled in front of its face. The only thing left for FIFA to do if it wants to keep any shred of its credibility is to stay true to its mission statement and disclose the report. It may be too late to do anything in terms of changing hosts, and although irreparable damage has been done to FIFA’s image, the least it can do is not keep secrets. Secrets don’t make friends.

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