Now that world soccer’s corruption schemes have started to be exposed, the time is ripe to take a concerted look at some of the unsavory deals that exist in our sport and seek some transparency.
As much controversy as there’s been over FIFA’s handing the 2018 World Cup finals to Russia and to Qatar in 2022, we need an even greater examination of how these countries spent hundreds of millions of dollars in the process.
A good start would be for FC Barcelona to tear up its deal with the Gulf state of Qatar.
Barcelona’s sponsorship deal with Qatar Sports Investment, started in 2011 and is reportedly worth nearly $200 million.
The deal, which meant having the Qatar Foundation and now Qatar Airways on its prized shirts, is up for re-negotiation in 2016.
The team’s president recently hinted that things had changed regarding Qatar from when they originally signed the deal.
One thing that would make even the most jaded club executive take notice is if Barça’s superstar attacking trio of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suárez threatened to sit out a season unless the team dissolved its Qatari partnership.
We shall see.
“The fact that FC Barcelona, for example, is sponsored by Qatar,” which Jonathan Schanzer, a former terrorism finance analyst at the U.S. Department of the Treasury, told Fox News Latino, “openly backs [the U.S.-designated terrorist group] Hamas and has become a permissive environment for a wide range of illicit financial activity, is a black eye for the sport.”
Schanzer – who is now the vice president of research with the Washington, D.C., based Foundation for Defense of Democracies – drew a comparison with a certain disgraced NFL quarterback.
“Michael Vick was jailed for dog fighting, and fans refused to wear his jersey. I am amazed that we have not seen a similar reaction to Qatar appearing on soccer jerseys.”
Although Qatar is considered a U.S. ally, reports indicate that the state has a troubling record in terror-financing.
“This is just an indication that governments can no longer sideline or be exonerated for egregious behavior,” Fox News Middle East contributor and foreign affairs analyst Lisa Daftari said, “such as human-rights violations or the financing of world terror on the global stage.”
Daftari added, “If Barcelona ends its sponsorship with Qatar, it’ll be a positive step for Western countries to hold state sponsors of terror, like Qatar, responsible for their actions and will put pressure on these nations to reconsider their alliances if they want to be well-received participants in global business, politics, or even soccer.”
In Russia, Gazprom, the government-controlled energy giant, got involved in soccer when it took ownership of Russian premier league side Zenit Saint Petersburg.
From there, its spending spree spread, most notably to English premier league champions, Chelsea.
But Chelsea doesn’t wear the word “Gazprom” on its shirts. At least not yet.
Additionally, Gazprom is an official sponsor of the UEFA Champions League and inked a deal in 2013 with now-disgraced FIFA president Sepp Blatter and his organization to become a major sponsor of the World Cup in the years leading up to 2018.
The signing ceremony was presided over by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Gazprom and Putin are inexorably linked,” Boris Zilberman, a Russia expert with FDD The Russian government is the majority owner. The success of Gazprom, Russia's most profitable company, is directly linked to the stability of the Putin regime as oil and gas sales account for over 50 percent of federal budget revenues.” Boris Zilberman – a Russia expert with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington-based foreign policy and security NGO – told Fox News.
“Soccer clubs should certainly reconsider their Gazprom sponsorship,” Zilberman added.
Qatari officials are calling criticism against its Cup bid and soccer federation racist. Earlier this month, foreign minister, Khaled al-Attiyah told Reuters, “I believe it is because of prejudice and racism that we have this bashing campaign against Qatar.”
Using the racist defense is an easy way to deflect attention from any mess, but if Qatar is serious then why not join the good guys?
Stop supporting murderous terrorist groups, fix your very poor human rights situation, end the slave-like conditions your foreign workers face as they build the soccer palaces for the 2022 Cup and make sure that they are safe.
Reports say that around 1,200 foreign workers have died so far while building Qatar’s World Cup stadiums – the same reports estimate that by 2022 that number will have grown to 4,000!
Messi, Neymar and Co., are you listening? Do you care?
Video of the week
Check out Neymar’s assist (at the 3:00 minute mark of this video) that saved Brazil in the 90th minute during its Sunday night Copa America clash with Peru.
Brazil won 2-1 thanks to the striker’s striking pass to Douglas Costa, who knocked the ball home.
From the wires
FIFA President Sepp Blatter will not go to New Zealand for the Under-20 World Cup final on Saturday.
Amid speculation that Blatter risks arrest in many countries, FIFA confirmed on Tuesday that he will remain in his native Switzerland instead of traveling to Auckland.
"Due to his current commitments in Zurich the FIFA president will not be able to travel to New Zealand to attend the final," the governing body said in a statement.
Blatter's plans have been uncertain since seven football officials were arrested in FIFA's home city three weeks ago in an American investigation of corruption. They face extradition to the United States.
The FIFA president, who has announced plans to resign within months, is a target of the widening case, a law enforcement official has confirmed to the Associated Press.
Blatter is working on a slate of modernizing reforms he hopes to get approved at a special election meeting of 209 member federations. It should be held sometime from December to March.
He would typically attend at least one match at the two-yearly under-20 event but is skipping the whole tournament.
FIFA said on Tuesday that Blatter could yet attend the Women's World Cup final on July 5 in Vancouver, Canada.
Blatter and FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke have not been to Canada for the 24-team tournament, which kicked off 10 days ago.
Valcke has been linked to the American case for helping to transfer $10 million from FIFA accounts in 2008 to accounts controlled by then-FIFA vice president Jack Warner of Trinidad and Tobago.
American prosecutors allege the money was bribes agreed by South African officials to pay Warner and two other FIFA voters for supporting the country's 2010 World Cup hosting bid.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.