Max Nova's Reviews > The Fall of the House of FIFA: The Multimillion-Dollar Corruption at the Heart of Global Soccer

The Fall of the House of FIFA by David Conn
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it was ok
bookshelves: 2018-focus, crime

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It's World Cup time, so what could be more appropriate for my 2018 "Year of Crime and Punishment" to read David Conn's "The Fall of the House of Fifa"? Unfortunately, this book gets so bogged down in the details that it's tough to understand the big-picture mechanics of how money was moving around within Fifa. The numerous typos and uninspired writing style also contribute to its 2-star rating. However, if you're willing to slog through hundreds of pages of details about one of the world's most profitable sports bureaucracies, you'll discover a pattern that has become familiar in my 2018 reading theme.

As John Oliver famously popularized in his "Last Week Tonight segment on FIFA", FIFA insider Sepp Blatter presided over a global patronage system that distributed the riches generated by the worldwide soccer phenomenon. And to be fair, the global soccer juggernaut was largely the creation of FIFA. But Conn traces how even from the mid 1900's, the millions (and eventually billions) of dollars flowing into FIFA from advertisers began to corrupt its institutional governance. By the late 1990's, FIFA's revenue boomed as lucrative TV deals transformed the FIFA World Cup into one of the world's premier entertainment events. With its opaque governing structure and Swiss headquarters (bribery isn't illegal in Switzerland - wild), FIFA was an almost irresistable magnet for corruption.

Conn tries to help us see that a big part of the issue was that each country in FIFA was entitled to an equal vote. Because the desperately poor countries of Africa and the Carribbean were so numerous, FIFA power players like Jack Warner and Chuck Blazer were able to consolidate powerful voting blocs from countries that were otherwise insignificant in the world of competitive soccer. By funneling FIFA patronage money to these national clubs (under the banner of "development grants"), a network of allies ensured their continued dominance in the FIFA elections.

Of course, this type of corruption comes as no surprise to readers of "The Dictator's Handbook." When a leader is only dependent on a small number of poor (easily bribable) and interchangeable cronies, conditions are perfect for corruption and payoffs. Sepp Blatter played this nearly perfectly and was able to maintain plausible deniability for decades by relying on secret deals and oral agreements. This eventually came back to bite him, but only after rising jealousies from the spurned (and inadequately paid off) European football clubs forced a thorough investigation of FIFA's finances.

As I was reading Conn's convoluted prose, I couldn't help but think of two other books that do a much better job of addressing these same mechanics, but in different contexts. "Treasure Islands" shows how hidden pools of money can eliminate accountability and pervert governance. And Caro's classic "The Power Broker" illustrates how through competence and ruthlessness, a single man can build up a pool of dark money and use it to preside over a vast and powerful network of corrupt officials.

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Reading Progress

April 27, 2018 – Started Reading
April 27, 2018 – Shelved
May 1, 2018 – Finished Reading
July 8, 2018 – Shelved as: 2018-focus
July 8, 2018 – Shelved as: crime

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