Germany has emerged victorious for the 4th time in the nation’s history, and first since 1990. They have accomplished what many work their entire lives for, and a select few actually achieve. Now that the drama on the field has concluded, the off the field drama that was hushed during the month long tournament have resurfaced. Accusations that bribery was at the heart of the 2010 decision to award Qatar, a nation with no history of soccer, no national league, and summer temperatures that hover above 110 degrees, began when the Sunday Times reported that Mohamed bin Hamman had distributed $5 million from a slush fund to various soccer officials around the world. Bin Hamman has since been banned from soccer for life, giving more credibility to the accusations, but a full investigation is being conducted by Michael Garcia, and ex-prosecutor from the United States charged with uncovering any corruption in the Qatar 2022 decision as well as the Russia 2018 bid. However, the investigation might never have taken place if not for the pressure of some extremely familiar names. In the coming weeks and months we will see just how much pressure they can apply, and just how far FIFA is willing to be pushed.
With a report near submission, FIFA announces confidentiality, for now.
FIFA has announced that they will not be releasing the details of the report Michael Garcia is set to provide them at the end of this month, only the decision that it renders based on the extensive corruption investigation. As a private international organization, they have no duty to make such records public and are exercising that right. However, it would seem that the same pressure they received to investigate these claims and have this report made in the first place, could put pressure upon the world soccer power to release the findings of the investigation.
The World Cup is one of the highest rated international television programs in the world. The unfortunate reality of this fact is that a lack of viewership is not a realistic threat that FIFA need worry about, however, lack of sponsorship is. We are seeing the current model of worldwide capitalism actually force an essentially unregulated enterprise into practicing self-accountability. FIFA has hired Michael Garcia to investigate these charges of corruption and bribery only after major sponsors such as Coca-Cola, Adidas, Sony, Hyundai, and Visa expressed their discontent with the accusations. Each company has publicly demanded that FIFA expose the corruption and remedy whatever fraudulent acts it uncovers.
Between these companies and FIFA, an estimated $1.5 billion dollars in revenue is received over EACH of the 4-year World Cup cycles.
Now that these corporations have successfully forced an investigation, what is to stop them from forcing FIFA to make the details of the report public? While there is no regulatory agency that has control over the soccer conglomerate, these companies have shown that there is power in numbers (especially when the number prefaced by a dollar sign) and that they have the ability to invoke serious change. It would be interesting to see if such power is used on other organizations, whether within the sporting world or elsewhere.
This is not the first time we have seen the corporate condemnation of a member of professional athletics. In 2010, on the heels of his very public divorce and admitted sexual deviance, Tiger Woods lost over $22 million dollars in endorsements from companies such as Gatorade and AT&T. While this is just an example of the many times that companies have shown that morality is linked to association with their brand, here we have a different breed of influence.
Although the benefits are easy to see, the negatives could be equally daunting. This is a lot of power to be giving unelected officials who sit on a board of trustees making decisions based 100% on finances rather than the benefit of the people (not to say governments do not do the same thing). If we see FIFA being compelled to make these reports public by these major corporations, then we might see the same such pressure across professional sports. Then again, completely dimwitted individuals do not run these organizations, which means they will be doing their absolute best to ensure such an investigation is never necessary. It will be interesting to see how the rest of this plays out and just how far their sponsors push FIFA before they are forced to make a decision to either break ties or concede to further demands.
In the meantime, all that can be done is to wait and see if the FIFA committee decides to overturn the decisions of Russia and Qatar in favor of less scandalous locations. For what it is worth, the United States was runner up to Qatar for 2022, and we already have the infrastructure to sustain such an event (as we proved in 1994), which Qatar is so obviously lacking.
Student athletes get a ruling in their favor.
On March 26, 2014, the regional director of the Chicago chapter of the National Labor Relations Board, Peter Sung Ohr, ruled that scholarship football players at Northwestern University were employees, and therefore had the right to unionize. Citing the long hours spent practicing, the non-educational nature of football related activities, and labeling the scholarships received by students as “compensation”, Ohr’s decision has the ability to be the first step in a complete overhaul of the collegiate sport landscape. On Thursday, July 3rd, parties on both sides of the argument submitted briefs to the NLRB in an effort to coerce the five-person panel into deciding in their favor. Northwestern and congressional republicans voiced their concerns, while the College Athletes Players Association and all 5 major US sports leagues (MLB, NHL, NFL, NBA, and MLS) submitted their argument for upholding the ruling. With many experts feeling that the decision will be upheld, the question becomes not whether change will occur, but just how far it will go and the effects, both positive and negative, it will have on the collegiate athletics landscape.
Inconsistent unionization has the ability to divide.
Although this particular decision has an extremely limited scope, the possible ramifications, if the NLRB national headquarters in Washington, D.C. upholds it, could be staggering. The March judgment states that specifically, only scholarship students at private universities are eligible for unionization, making no mention of public universities or the rest of the collegiate landscape, which could cause for vast inconsistencies in application. Labor and employment laws are legislated within the states individually, and therefore, depending on a particular jurisdiction’s laws and political trends, unionization could be anywhere from a difficult struggle, to a forgone conclusion. Florida, as an example, has extremely low private unionization rates, and relatively high public unionization rates, 3.1% and 27.8% respectively. That fact combined with the unbelievable amount of revenue collegiate football brings in to the major state universities, $74 million dollar average from 2010-2012, makes the probability of unionization of Florida public university athletes extremely high.
If that domino falls in Florida, states like Alabama, Louisiana, and Texas, would need to follow suit in order to compete. Students would then be far less inclined to attend schools without the protections that unionization would provide, forcing many students to compete over the limited number of protected spots across the nation. You could then see a methodic overhaul of the entire collegiate landscape due, primarily, to the financial ability of some schools to pay their players without consequence, and the need for other institutions to make sacrifices in order to measure up. As certain schools inevitably begin to pull away, they will bring with them the championships and the public eye that comes with having many star athletes in one place. Less fortunate universities will be forced to cut certain programs just to be able to tread water, so to speak, within this new model.
For female athletes, the potential for equality or elimination.
Optimists believe that this decision could finally create the equality that has been sought for so long by female student athletes. The combination of Title IX and a new ability to receive such benefits as health insurance and collective bargaining rights could put both male and female athletes on the same level and compel, or even force, athletic programs to compensate both sexes the same way. While this would be a victory for gender equality in sports, it also has the potential to force schools with lower budgets to eliminate many athletic programs in order to retain the most lucrative. While some would argue a balanced spending cut is better than an unbalanced one, it begs the question of whether protecting the athletes who bring in more money should come at the price of completely eliminating certain events from NCAA competition.
While there seems to be no disagreement that the current NCAA model needs to be revamped, the “How?” of it all is where the question lies. If the NLRB decides to uphold Mr. Ohr’s decision, then some sort of guidelines or implementation schedule needs to accompany it. Without the necessary foresight, the unionization of student athletes has the potential to cause irrevocable damage to amateur sports in the United States. It would be terrible to lose so many programs across the nation just so that the few can get as much payment and protection as they feel is deserved.
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