By Rick Bell
May. 27, 2015
Photo courtesy of Thinkstock.
I’m a big fan of the Women’s World Cup.
I was standing in the top row of the Rose Bowl in Pasadena during the 1999 finals when Brandi Chastain knocked home the game-winner then famously yanked off her jersey as the United States beat China on penalty kicks, securing her place in U.S. soccer lore and revealing the most impressive six-pack in women’s sports.
Sixteen years later, the 2015 edition of Women’s World Cup kicks off June 6 in Canada. While I’m hoping for another Chastain-esque iconic moment, chances are that anything that occurs on the field will be drown out by the scandal surrounding FIFA, the sport’s governing body. News broke overnight that Swiss and U.S. authorities are investigating rampant corruption in the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 men’s World Cups to Russia and Qatar. So far, six FIFA officials have been arrested. My guess is it’s the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
FIFA officials were quick to assure the world that Sepp Blatter, the organization’s controversial president who somehow outranks the NFL’s Roger Goodell on the most-despised sports czar list, is not implicated in the scandal. Nope. Not aware of any wrongdoing; nothing to see here.
Even if Blatter ultimately is found to have played a role, FIFA, a mega-multibillion-dollar organization that holds all things soccer in a chokehold — hold a World Cup in Qatar? Really? And move the tournament from the summer to early winter? Really? — will survive this scandal. Just like every other black eye it has received over the years.
Sports uber-organizations like FIFA and the International Olympic Committee, and to a lesser degree Major League Baseball and the NFL, can transcend controversy. While some corporations struggle for years to re-polish a tarnished reputation or even survive scandals of this scale — think Enron, WorldCom, Adelphia and Arthur Andersen — like some sort of weird cancerous cell, sports mutates and grows larger because of it.
Provided the scandal doesn’t encompass Blatter, he’ll be at the Women’s World Cup when it opens in a couple of weeks. He will be the villain, the Dick Dastardly in the president’s box, booed and hissed by all when introduced.
Yet his organization’s product will be plastered on TVs globally all summer long beyond the Women’s World Cup. International tournaments in South America and here in the U.S., both featuring the superstars of men’s soccer, continue to take place despite FIFA and its regional federations amassing reputations for corruption and arrogance that make cable companies and investment banks look downright saintly.
Please shake me of this sneaking suspicion that a scandal-laden FIFA, not soccer, will be symbolically hoisting a tainted trophy when a new World Cup winner takes center stage.
I prefer to recall Chastain’s penalty kick heard ’round the world and dropping to her knees, jubilantly twirling her jersey above her head as she was mobbed by teammates on that warm June afternoon. And I can’t wait for the next iconic moment to forget about FIFA’s latest shocker and focus on futbol.
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