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Monday, October 17, 2011

How FIFA Works as a Political System

Many people in the United States consider soccer to be a mere game played by twenty-two men on a grass field and observed by drunken fans who take it too seriously. However, this sport has more in common with the politics and economic situation of the rest of the world than many assume.

The Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) is based in Zurich, Switzerland and is home to the ruling bodies of world soccer. The political structure of FIFA is similar to the political structure of checks and balances in the United States government. FIFA is composed of a Congress, Executive Committee and General Secretariat with members from over 35 different countries worldwide. These systems parallel the American version of a legislative branch, the Congress, an executive branch, the President, and a judicial branch consisting of multiple committees that enforce the laws and, like the judges in American government, are the ultimate arbiters of any controversy in FIFA.
FIFA Congress, although it is run more similarly to a parliament, their job is identical to the job of American Congress. They are the legislative branch of FIFA politics and their main focus is to develop the game and the soccer community around it. The FIFA Statutes, or the constitution of FIFA, holds the same function as the United States Constitution. Since the FIFA Statutes have been composed by members of FIFA representing countries all over the world, they are structured with different ideals than that of the United States Constitution. Their main focus is to promote soccer all over the world (as stated in Article 2), so the content of their articles are limited to avoid conflicting political beliefs. FIFA, since the federation represents players and teams from so many different countries, has an article specifically enforcing anti-racism. Article 3 of the FIFA Statutes states “Discrimination of any kind against a country, private person or group of people on account of ethnic origin, gender, language, religion, politics of any other reason is strictly prohibited and punishable by suspension or expulsion.”
FIFA Congress meets annually, just like the United States Congress, in Zurich at FIFA headquarters to make decisions about the game and to assess how the year went in terms of money, efficiency and the progress of their laws. At these meetings, Congress may choose to remove an Executive Committee member from office, amend the Statutes, the Regulations Governing the Application of the Statutes and the Standing Orders of the Congress, make decisions over admitting or expelling a member, approve the income statement, approve the Activity Report and every four years they elect a new president. Since the “citizens” of FIFA are all people involved in soccer, FIFA presidents are elected by Delegates, who work similarly to the House of Representatives. They are responsible for voting in favor of the Member Association that they represent. Votes must be cast in person in Congress.
The current FIFA President, Josip S. Blatter (Sepp Blatter) is the successor of Dr. Joao Havelange and is the eighth FIFA president. He had already served FIFA for twenty-three years before taking over as president on June 8, 1998. Blatter’s presidency has been surrounded by allegations of corruption starting with his 1998 election and since then he has been accused of bribery as late as May of this year after the selections of host nations for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. He has also been involved with accusations involving sexism, financial mismanagement and recently his dismissal of technological assistance (goal-line technology) following Thierry Henry’s controversial (and completely blatant) hand ball in World Cup 2010 qualification.
Despite the speculation surrounding his presidency, Blatter has been praised by South African representatives and football fans alike for bringing the 2010 World Cup to the continent of Africa for the first time in history. The World Cup was a huge boost to local economies in South Africa, bringing in millions of tourists and supplying jobs building stadiums, marketing and selling merchandise. Blatter recapped the event in his own words in the FIFA 2010 financial report: “FIFA placed its trust in South Africa right from the very start, and the organizers made sure that the event was a success by building a partnership that was always based on respect, efficiency and solidarity. The 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa was not just successful from a sporting point of view, however, as it also underlined the immense social and cultural power of our game.”
FIFA was not the only body able to repot financial success over time. Over the last 50 years, the salaries of world soccer stars have increased dramatically from the meager wages that stars once earned. Part of this is due to inflation, part of it is due to increases in ticketing prices, part of it has to do with the marketing opportunities available to clubs and players worldwide and part of it is the fact that the soccer world has now realized that a players career is short in comparison to that of other professions so financial security is needed (although most of these men are far more than financially “secure”). Today, the average soccer player can earn anywhere from $2,000 annually to around $40 million. Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the most famous players in world soccer today, topped the salary charts in 2011 bringing in an income of $17.6 million. Compare this to the salary of English soccer players in 1934 of roughly $788 annually, and the average salary of a lower league English soccer player today who can earn around $20,000 - $50,000 in a season. Although this 1934 was before the inflation caused by two World Wars and the natural progression of the world economy, that is a dramatic difference. Today, less so than in 1934, a professional soccer player can make enough money in his career to save and support himself and his family when his career is over. Back in the 1930s, even as late as the 1980s it was almost guaranteed that no matter the level you played at, you would soon need to seek a new profession upon retiring from soccer.
Top soccer stars salaries will vary depending on the league they play in. Interestingly, the capitalist country, the United States, is the country to enforce a rule that keeps the richer clubs from buying out all of the talent or importing it from better clubs in Europe or South America and leaving nothing for the smaller clubs, making the rich more powerful on and off the soccer pitch. In Major League Soccer, the top league in North America, clubs have a salary cap of $2,675,000, meaning that between the designated roster consisting of 20 players, the total pay (from the club, not including money that the players bring in from other sources) cannot exceed the $2,675,000 cap. Players on roster spots 21-30 will not be counted against the cap. In the popular leagues in Europe, however, clubs don’t have limits on how much they can pay their players and often use wages and hefty transfer prices to bribe players to their club. Although European leagues and considered a salary cap, the promotion-relegation system of leagues makes it almost impossible. Combine the shifts in money allowances from the league the club is in along with the market values and former salaries of players on the team’s roster and working around a salary cap would become nearly impossible.
Not all clubs and players are doing so well though. Like all political systems, soccer leagues, teams and players have their financial woes. Now more than ever the soccer world is seeing clubs declaring bankruptcy or seeking bankruptcy protection. In the Spanish League, La Liga, all but two clubs are in the red zone, dangerously close to declaring bankruptcy. Real Madrid and Barcelona are the two most popular clubs in Spain and are in the top five most popular in the world. In the 2009/10 season it was reported that between the two of them the clubs brought in $1.2 billion of revenue to the league. Although this is a dramatic increase from previous years, the other 18 clubs in the league still struggle. Around $43 million is owed in unpaid wages to over 100 players. This shortage of money and lack of paid wages is due to poor management and ownership of clubs in the past several years and, like many people in America faced when the economy took a downturn, clubs had been borrowing money they couldn’t repay, causing serious debt. One club in England even took it upon themselves to raise the money to pay off debt and to pay their players. Fans passed collection jars around the stands during games, and together they were able keep their club alive. Other clubs are having trouble filling their stadiums because of ticket prices. This has been a problem in Italy recently. Pricey tickets combined with good TV coverage of both home and away matches makes fans more likely to stay home and watch the game rather than go see it live at the stadium.
This lack of revenue, although made worse by poor management, is closely related to the consumers. As ticket prices rise and replica jerseys exceed $100, clubs have been hit hard by the recession. Although FIFA reported a net gain of $631 million between 2007 and 2010, this money is not spread evenly throughout the soccer world. This report was also made after a successful FIFA World Cup in South Africa. Some would not assume just how much money a sport brings to an economy. Whether it’s a local economy struggling because their club no longer exists and they have a huge stadium, a fan shop, and local businesses surrounding the stadium that relied on the weekly visits from fans or a huge boost to the impoverished cities in South Africa from the millions of people coming to the FIFA World Cup, soccer plays a huge role in the ups and downs of economies. Similarly to the American economy, the world of soccer benefits from a free market. Very few rules exist about club ownership, buying and selling of players and the collection of wealth.
Top soccer clubs can be compared to the biggest corporate businesses. Like large and successful businesses today, soccer benefits from a type of outsourcing or off-shoring system with developing players. Previously, soccer clubs would pick and choose particularly skilled and gifted players from lesser local teams (rarely looking outside the country but occasionally scanning the continent or neighboring nations) and developed them in their own youth academy in their own city. Nowadays, top clubs are able to afford to import their youth from other countries or even continents after they are rigorously developed by specialized youth coaches in special facilities. If a European club sees a player they like in South America, they may choose to closely monitor the player until he is developed enough in his own academy (which may have a stronger youth program) before signing him. Other times, clubs will buy players and send them abroad to lower ranked teams for them to develop and gain more experience under a different coach before taking the player back for their own team. This is called a loan; one club will let another club use and develop their player under the condition that when they want them back, they get them back. Sometimes, if a player does not develop as much as the mother club hoped, they will allow the host club to sign the player. One good example of successful outsourcing in soccer is seen between Brazil and Japan. Many Brazilian players are developed in the strong Brazilian youth academies and then sent up to play in the Japanese J League, buying them more experience on the pitch in a tougher league. They then may go back to Brazil with the ability to compete at the top level or they may have gotten good enough to move on to the top leagues in Europe. Not only is this a benefit for Brazilian soccer players, but by having so many Brazilian players in the league, the Japanese have adapted a playing style similar to the Brazilians, making them successful but more importantly fun to watch, attracting fans from all over the world.
Soccer can be a huge boost to local economies as was seen with the FIFA World Cup in South Africa as well as the 2009 U17 World Cup in Nigeria. Fans from all over the world came in to support their team, bringing with them lots of money that they spent on hotels, food and consumer goods from local businesses. TV coverage of major tournaments can also help raise awareness of the location that the games are being played in. A fine example of economic benefit can be seen in two cities close to home. Bremerton’s team, the Kitsap Pumas, have attracted people from all over the peninsula. Ads for local businesses surround the field and the indoor team’s venue is also a popular center for local activities. The Seattle Sounders have made Seattle Soccer City, bringing people from all over Washington State on game day into the waterfront city and also bringing in people from other cities who are following their own team.
Despite its ups and downs, FIFA has been able to bring in a total of $4,189 million from 2007-2010. The similarities with a successful American government system and a productive parliamentary system make FIFA a progressive and successful body of government. FIFA sponsored events and tournaments have been a huge boost to small or struggling economies and despite the financial problems that some smaller clubs face, outsourcing developing players and capping spending in some leagues has helped distribute the wealth and kept those clubs alive. Soccer players are now receiving enough money to keep them living comfortably, if not extravagantly long after their soccer playing years are over. The soccer world has its flaws, but a structured governing body, a strong economic situation and a supportive body of people that span the globe make it a successful and unique system no different than other political systems all over the world.

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