If you did not have the energy to read the 2014 Garcia Report, the Netflix docuseries FIFA Uncovered is an excellent way to get all the facts in a very visual mode. Director Daniel Gordon interviews journalists, authors, and media experts as well as key principals formerly inside FIFA, and the Qataris who bought the World Cup.
Expansive coverage in <4 hours
The first of the 4 episodes explains how corruption began with Joao Havelange, who turned FIFA from a collegial non-profit into a business with massive revenues. It started with the initial Coca Cola sponsorship and led to the billions of dollars from selling media rights. All that money had to go somewhere, and generally speaking, it went into the pockets of FIFA executives.
- Episode 1 covers how corruption began
- Episode 2 covers the corruption by Trinidad’s Jack Warner and the vote to award the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
- Episode 3 covers the negative reaction to the Qatari WC and how Qatar won their bid despite knowing nothing about football.
- Episode 4 covers how the FBI worked with Chuck Blazer, the Garcia Report, and the May-27-2015 arrests of FIFA Executive Committee (ExCo) members.
So many interviews!
The journal/media interviews are shown throughout the series and include:
- David Conn, author of “The Fall of the House of FIFA” and a Guardian journalist
- Ken Bensinger, author of “Red Card“
- Amanda Davies, CNN sports anchor
- Guido Tognoni, former FIFA media director and a Swiss lawyer
- John-Philippe LeClaire, Platini’s biographer and author of “Pourquoi les Blancs courent moins vite” (Why White people run slower)
- Phaedra al-Majid, the female media specialist turned Whistleblower for the Qatari bid
The interviews with the FIFA principals try to be balanced. In fact, Sepp Blatter continues to ooze that favorite uncle charm. Unfortunately for the game, Sepp contends that though he was responsible for all of FIFA, he is not responsible for the people coming in from other countries and cultures.
“My conscience is clear. I am not responsible.”Sepp Blatter
In fact, while the house of FIFA is reeling from the May-27-2015 FBI arrests of the ExCo, Sepp Blatter tells the FIFA Congress , “Je suis avec vous.” And he is re-elected to a a 5th term. However, Sepp resigns on Jun-2-2015 and remains banned from football until 2028. Guilty but not responsible.
Other former FIFA ExCo interviews give evidence of how being a Blatter Buddy is a long-running test of loyalty. But as soon as one challenges Sepp, that person is forced out, usually in a permanent way. For example:
- The series portrays Mohamed bin Hammamn as having tried to usurp Blatter. Chuck Blazer notified FIFA of Bin Haman’s cash bribes of CONCACAF officers, leading to the Qatari’s ban.
- FIFA Secretary General Jérôme Valcke was forced to resign. Man did he age. In Jun-2022 he was convicted of bribery.
- Chuck Blazer died in 2017 before he could be brought to trial. As in the film The FIFA Family, Blazer’s then girlfriend Mary Lynn Blanks is interviewed in his place.
- Alexandra Wrage on the Independence Governance Committee gives some insider perspective on the inappropriateness of how FIFA was operating as a non-profit. She recognized the FIFA Governance Reform committee was a white wash, and she was soon out.
- Hassan Al-Thawadi, head of the Qatari bid team and CEO of the WC 2022 tournament, sheds crocodile tears as he insists the opposition to their WC is almost racist. He wants the world to believe that Qataris are passionate about sports. From this Feb-2020 interview, Al-Thawadi says they want to bring people together and resolve conflict through dialog. They are offering a “compact World Cup” with a low transportation carbon footprint. They are a football nation and hosting the WC has accelerated them onto the world stage. They are showcasing a sustainable tournament.
Gianni Infantino and Michel Platini are 2 key FIFA executives who I believe are not interviewed in this film but are shown from news clips. Infantino succeeded Platini as UEFA General Secretary and acts shocked at the 2015 arrests of the ExCo members. He says that he supported Michel Platini to succeed Sepp as FIFA president. But then the leak of $2M of “disloyalty payments” in 2011 between Sepp and Platini was revealed. The FIFA Ethics Committee suspended both of them for 90 days for conflicts of interest. Subsequently they were banned for 8 years. (In 2022 they were cleared of these charges.)
As a result of the bans, Infantino was asked to run, so he told Platini he would just run as a candidate and would give up the job when Platini came back. Of course, once elected, Gianni was never giving up the FIFA presidency. Note that Infantino now lives in Qatar.
Things I learned from FIFA Uncovered
- Steve Berryman, the IRS Special Agent who kicked off the whole investigation of FIFA, was a Liverpool fan. His interest in FIFA corruption was peaked by the Andrew Jennings articles in The Guardian. This led Berryman to look into Chuck Blazer’s tax records, where he discovered that Blazer had not filed a tax return in 15 years.
- I had little familiarity with the Qataris Hassan Al-Thawadi and Mohamed bin Hammam. The many video interviews with them in this series make for good speculation about their intent to showcase their country and people and ignore all other facts.
- The series points out that FIFA positioned the ExCo arrests as a question of: Are we a criminal organization or are we a victim? Somehow they won the argument and received $201 M victim compensation in 2021.
The series is a revealing look at FIFA corruption, but what does it hope to accomplish right before the World Cup of Fraud? The trailer emphasizes the fraudulent bid, but is the Netflix series trying to urge people to boycott, to watch movies instead of games? Is it to remind people that thousands of people have died building the infrastructure for the tournament? Once the tournament is over, no one will remember the 12 years of angst after the bid was awarded to Qatar. We’ve already forgotten all the corruption that was exposed, especially because so very few FIFA ExCo members were punished (other than being removed from their positions).
So rather than address how FIFA continues to ignore its history of corruption, the film finishes with the question: What is football’s place in a divided world? Qatar’s wealth has enabled them to survive all the allegations against them. FIFA needs good values that are worthy of the passion and power that it holds over 2 billion people. Right now, that power can be bought by wealthy countries and dictators.
Is anyone listening?
7 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 7