FIFA Uncovered is a Netflix docu-series that takes a look at the systemic corruption that existed within the football governing body and how it came to light in 2015. The series is now streaming on Netflix.
Warning: This article contains heavy spoilers
The docu-series includes accounts of prominent journalists, former and current members of FIFA and various other people involved in the world of football.
In 2015, the United States government and the FBI indicted 14 FIFA officials for widespread corruption and many other charges which included fraud and bribery charges that rocked the footballing world.
However, these charges only revealed a small portion of the systemic corruption seen within the organization over many decades with a culture of dishonesty ingrained in the very spine of FIFA.
It all began in 1974 when Brazillian João Havelange was elected to replace the Englishman Stanley Rous as president of FIFA. While he got his position through shrewd politics, his methods to change the game thereafter left much to be desired.
Havelange brought capitalism and money into an organization that did not have many funds upon his appointment. He brought in Sepp Blatter as technical director to help with that aspect.
Blatter secured a sponsorship deal with Coca-Cola to promote the development of football in underdeveloped countries while Havelange struck a deal with Horst Dassler and Adidas in a mutually beneficial deal.
However, Dassler had other ideas to benefit from the partnership and set up a company called International Sport and Leisure (ISL) which began buying up the broadcasting rights for all events hosted by FIFA during the growth of television in the world.
In exchange, Havelange received payments in his personal accounts for his support. The other major issue that Havelange dealt with in his early years was the 1978 World Cup being held in Argentina.
Argentina had just overseen a brutal military coup which installed a new dictatorship at the top. FIFA decided to push on with the World Cup in the country despite some public backlash.
Meanwhile, Blatter began growing in influence within FIFA after being appointed as the General Secretary in 1981. In 1998, Blatter decided to take over as president and used evidence he had obtained of Havelange’s bribery payments to convince his predecessor to step down.
When Blatter came to power, he had allies in key positions of governance in the footballing world. Jack Warner, who was the president of the CONCACAF along with Chuck Blazer, the head of the U.S Football Federation supported Blatter in his endeavours while furthering their own agendas.
In Europe, Blatter had Michel Platini to count upon and he also made several allies in Africa thanks to his promise that he would bring the World Cup to the African continent for the very first time.
Warner and Blazer were at the centre of suspicions regarding South Africa’s successful bid to host the World Cup in 2010 after there were payments made from the Government of South Africa towards Warner to support the African diaspora in the Caribbean.
The money ultimately went unaccounted for and left a cloud over such a historically monumental decision. Blatter managed to get re-elected as President due to the support he had built and the favours he had promised despite the opposition he faced.
There was a pattern of mismanagement of funds and even though there were people who tried to bring the issue to light, Blatter managed to weather the storms and keep control.
In 2009, more controversy hit after FIFA decided to select the hosts of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups in the same congress. England’s bid for 2018 and the United States’ bid for 2022 appeared the clear frontrunners but eventually lost out to Russia and Qatar respectively.
Reports of geo-political deals and “special packages” being delivered to officials within the FIFA hotel were rampant as two countries with weak infrastructure and questionable human rights records were selected.
Blatter faced another threat to his presidency in the form of Mohammed bin Hammam, a Qatari national and president of the Asian football confederation. Hammam was asked to back out of the race and in exchange, Blatter would stop openly criticising Qatar’s successful bid to host the World Cup.
Hammam’s efforts to oust Blatter opened up a new can of worms as an agreement with Jack Warner went awry and signalled the beginning of the end for many of FIFA’s corrupt elite.
FIFA Uncovered ending explained in detail:
How were Jack Warner and Chuck Blazer caught?
In a bid to win the support of the CONCACAF, Hammam and Jack Warner hosted an event at Port of Spain where several officials were handed envelopes of money for football development.
While not explicitly mentioned, it was understood this was a payment made to secure a federation’s vote in the upcoming elections. Some of the officials saw this and refused to accept the money while informing members of the press about what was going on.
Blazer warned Warner not to be so blatant with this event and stayed away but he wasn’t able to remain clean for too long. The media attention forced Warner to resign as president of CONCACAF and he stated that he would reveal information that would be damning to members of FIFA who didn’t back him.
An English journalist named Andrew Jennings continued to investigate the corruption within FIFA and published his findings in a series of articles. These articles grabbed the attention of members of the IRS and the FBI who specifically targeted Chuck Blazer.
After gathering enough evidence of fraud and tax evasion against Blazer, the FBI approached him and recruited him to be a mole so that they can find out the true extent of corruption within FIFA.
What was the controversy behind Qatar’s world cup bid?
At the time of the bid, Qatar did not have the infrastructure or the stadiums required to host a World Cup. There were also concerns about the possibility of playing the tournament in the sweltering temperatures during May, June and July when the World Cup is usually held.
Despite all these concerns, Qatar emerged as the winner and it was later revealed that a lot of shady deals took place around that time which made people question the legitimacy of the victory.
Phaedra Al-Majid who was part of the committee responsible for the bid came out as a whistleblower and claimed that Qatar offered money to federation officials from Africa in exchange for their vote.
Michel Platini was also accused of selling his vote as it came to light in the days following the vote that a Qatari consortium had acquired the primary football team in Paris, Paris St Germain. The Qatar government also bought several planes from France which further increased suspicions.
In the years leading up to the World Cup, several issues regarding the terrible working conditions that existed for the migrant workers who were involved in building the stadiums and infrastructure. Qatar continued to deny all claims of wrongdoing.
What happened with the FBI indictment?
After gathering evidence thanks to Chuck Blazer and other cooperating witnesses, the U.S government charged 14 high-ranking officials of FIFA with multiple counts of corruption and fraud and carried out the arrests of these individuals.
These arrests took place just days before a vote was to take place to decide whether Blatter would be re-elected for a fifth consecutive term as President of FIFA. One of the people arrested was Jeff Webb, Jack Warner’s successor as president of the CONCACAF.
No charges were laid on Sepp Blatter and yet, he faced a lot of criticism for being in charge of the organization throughout all this. He was not without blame, although he refused to accept complete responsibility for what happened.
What happened to Sepp Blatter?
After facing public pressure, Blatter stepped down as president soon after being re-elected. It was presumed that Michel Platini would be his successor but information leaked of a payment being made by Blatter to Platini in 2011 around the time that Blatter was up for re-election.
It was understood that Platini was growing frustrated with Blatter and planned to stand against him in the election which is when the payment was made. The reasoning given was that Blatter was paying Platini what was owed for Platini’s work back in 2002.
Despite being cleared of all charges, Platini and Blatter were banned from all football, with Blatter banned until the year 2028. Blatter continues to maintain his innocence and insists that his conscience is clear and he continues to sleep well at night.