Q&A: Rick Burton on FIFA Scandal
A scandal has hit world soccer, with accusations that top officials at the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) accepted bribes to secure the rights to World Cup matches. FIFA’s president, Sepp Blatter, stepped down from the post just days after being re-elected to a fifth term. David B. Falk Distinguished Professor of Sport Management Rick Burton says, “Soccer is a global language and the FIFA situation is global currency. All over the world, people are discussing these recent developments.”
Q. For people in the United States and non-soccer fans, why is this considered such a big story?
A. Soccer (known as football to the rest of the world) is essentially the world’s biggest sport (in terms of ardent fans, aggregated revenues and number of professional teams). In addition, the World Cup delivers a unique form of patriotism for the countries that are traditionally involved. FIFA is a massive governing body and the charges that have been brought by the U.S. Department of Justice put a spotlight on a group that is often seen as mysterious. Americans may not exactly know who FIFA is … but they are intrigued by this scandal because they know the rest of the world cares passionately about this organization’s biggest games and FIFA’s global influence.
Q. Do you feel this is the tip of the iceberg in terms of higher-ranking officers in FIFA stepping down/being forced out?
A. There will be more changes to come, but none bigger than FIFA president Sepp Blatter announcing he will step down during the next year. And, as happens with all royalty, when the king is deposed (or forced to abdicate the throne), the court often follows. Heads may not roll, but changes will take place.
Q. What does this equate to that has happened previously in professional sports?
A. There are many notable variations involving both big organizations and individual performers. What they generally share in common is that numerous groups (fans, the media, sponsors, broadcasters) were betrayed or lied to. Where should we start? The 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics? They were tarnished greatly by a corruption scandal. But we can also include Tour de France cyclist Lance Armstrong, golfer Tiger Woods, the 1919 Chicago White Sox and even to some extent the NFL concussion matter and the NFL’s domestic abuse cases of the last year.
Q. Might this hurt the chances for soccer to become popular in the United States?
A. Probably not. The U.S. is unlikely to host the World Cup during the next 11 years (2026) but the growth of football via leagues like the EPL, La Liga, Serie A, Bundesliga and the UEFA Champions Cup will continue unabated. Plus, MLS (the American pro league) is doing extremely well. Interestingly, MLS Commissioner Don Garber is slated to speak at SU in early 2016 as part of the University Speaker Series, and I predict he will attract a full house that night.