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The FIFA headquarters in Zurich. (CHRISTIAN HARTMANN/REUTERS)
The FIFA headquarters in Zurich. (CHRISTIAN HARTMANN/REUTERS)

A World Cup fiasco: FIFA gets a red card Add to ...

Even without the taint of bribery allegations, Qatar has been a controversial choice. The extreme heat of the desert country could force the tournament to be rescheduled for the winter. There are concerns about the deaths of foreign workers in Qatar who face notoriously bad conditions on stadium construction sites, and about the country’s harsh laws against homosexuality.

Changing FIFA’s culture

One of the changes FIFA has approved in the wake of the recent allegations is the removal of the body’s top brass from the final decision on who hosts the World Cup. For the 2026 World Cup bidding process, the entire 209-member FIFA congress will vote to decide the winner, taking the decision out of the hands of the elite 25-member executive and presumably making it much more difficult to win by making bribes. But the executive will still make the shortlist.

Recently, Canadian soccer officials – apparently unfazed by the storm of bribery allegations – announced their intention to prepare a bid on the 2026 World Cup, hoping to build on a successful women’s event going ahead here next year. By contrast, U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati has said his country – which finished second to Qatar in the 2010 vote – would not bid on another World Cup until voting reforms that include more transparency and tighter rules are in place.

Victor Montagliani, president of the Canadian Soccer Association and a delegate to FIFA’s congress this week, said the changes FIFA has made have already improved the process. And he said everyone should wait for the results of the investigation into the Qatar allegations before passing judgment.

“Those are allegations. And there’s somebody who’s now in charge of looking into that whole process. And until he comes out with his report, I think it would be irresponsible to comment on that,” Mr. Montagliani said, adding that the officials implicated in previous scandals who were part of the regional soccer federation in which Canada is a member were thrown out.

But he did say that FIFA member associations would find it difficult not to vote to remove the tournament from Qatar if confronted with “hard evidence.”

Mr. Klotz, the Toronto lawyer who recently finished his work on FIFA’s governance committee, says FIFA deserves credit for what it has done. He notes that it has created an independent audit committee to look at its books and pledged to allow the committee’s head to attend executive meetings. But Mr. Klotz, who like Ms. Wrage, advises companies on their anti-bribery procedures, said that all the rules in the world won’t work until an organization changes its culture. Whether FIFA can achieve this, he said, remains to be seen.

“When we decided to crack down on drunk driving ... they increased the penalties for drunk driving, but that did not stop people from driving drunk,” he said. “But as MADD [Mothers Against Drunk Driving] really got their public campaign going and started this shaming process ... the culture has changed.”

Ms. Wrage says that unless Swiss authorities decide to pursue FIFA, the only way the organization will change is if the multinational companies that sponsor the World Cup decide to withhold their millions.

“Every time there’s a new scandal, I say, this is is really going to be the last straw, and then there’s another one,” she said. “... If the sponsors are going to keep paying, and the fans are going to keep attending the games, it does make some sense of FIFA’s sense of perfect impunity. Their apparent belief that they might be untouchable might be accurate.”

At a press conference in Sao Paulo on Thursday, Mr. Blatter would say little about the Qatar investigation.

“I am not a prophet, that’s all,” he told reporters.“We await the results and we’ll see what will happen.”

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