This week, B.C.’s NDP government made one of the smartest decisions of its brief time in office: It told FIFA to stuff it.
More precisely, it allowed a deadline for participating in a three-country bid to play host to FIFA’s 2026 men’s World Cup soccer championships to pass. Canada is joining the United States and Mexico in an application to present the event, and Vancouver was one of four cities in this country (the others are Montreal, Toronto and Edmonton) in the running to put on a few of the games.
But it’s not any more because the provincial government didn’t like the strict terms FIFA had established to partake, which amounted to handing the organization a blank cheque. There are groups with whom you might consider this, such as the Salvation Army, say.
We’re talking about an organization that has been as dishonest as any on the face of the Earth the past several years, one engulfed in one of the most notorious corruption scandals in recent times. The U.S. Department of Justice has charged more than 40 officials and entities connected to the sports body with taking tens of millions in bribes; several people have pleaded guilty. Amid the fallout, FIFA’s controversial president, Sepp Blatter, resigned.
Despite it all, FIFA still operates like a contemptuous oligarchy.
The list of demands it wanted to impose on Vancouver, and by extension the taxpayers of B.C., was preposterous. Freelance journalist Bob Mackin got a copy of them, which included tax exemptions for an entire decade as well as the right to import and export unlimited amounts of foreign currency. FIFA expected taxpayers to foot the bill for safety and security, which would extend from stadiums to training facilities to official hotels and so on. It was also demanding a “visa-free” environment, with work permits issued “unconditionally and without any restriction or discrimination of any kind.”
Also necessary would be exemptions from provincial labour laws and “other legislation” for companies and personnel involved with the competition. FIFA would have the right to change its agreement with B.C. at any time, with the province picking up any costs that flowed from alterations to the original deal. Taxpayers would have to cover the expense of installing a natural-grass field, ripping up the artificial turf put in just three years ago at a cost of $1.3-million for a women’s World Cup event.
Why not just let FIFA run the province during the period the games are on?
It’s worth noting that the same week B.C. said no thanks, so did the cities of Chicago and Minneapolis. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said FIFA couldn’t provide cost certainty and he wasn’t willing to put taxpayers at risk. (Sound familiar?) The city of Minneapolis said it was withdrawing because of an “inability to negotiate the terms of various agreements in order to provide sufficient protection from future liabilities.”
What’s that expression? A fool and his money are soon parted? That should be the warning motto for any city thinking about getting involved with FIFA (or the International Olympic Committee, for that matter). FIFA should be pleading with cities to take their events, not the other way around. Yes, there can be economic generators but they also come with significant financial risks. It’s not FIFA’s money, so it doesn’t care.
What is shocking is that the BC Liberals, a party that for years specialized in giving condescending lectures to the NDP about knowing the value of a dollar, would be so upset that the government wanted no part of this spectacle; that they would be willing to put taxpayers on the hook for an array of unknown costs.
The Liberals completely missed the boat here. In an effort to make the NDP government appear like party-poopers, it’s the Liberals that end up looking like wastrels who value a good time above all else.
I wish more governments would start standing up to FIFA the way B.C. did, the way cities such as Chicago and Minneapolis have as well.
Soccer may be the beautiful game but the way FIFA runs its show is just plain ugly. It’s about time people starting saying: Enough.