Playing at a World Cup is the dream of every footballer. Yet at the 2022 World Cup we have had teams claiming they are being silenced and individual players saying they are afraid to speak and are being controlled. How has the game reached such a desperate and sad situation?
Whatever your view on Qatar's right to host the World Cup, what is clear is the FIFA bidding process has been stained and discredited. 17 of the 22 FIFA ExCo members who voted to award the tournament to Qatar have been banned or indicted over allegations of corruption and wrongdoing. It would be naïve to think Western countries' football administration is free from suspected wrongdoing or unethical behaviour. For example, Germany’s successful bid for the 2006 World Cup came into question and UEFA’s practices are also facing scrutiny.
This is a global and systemic issue with football governance that has existed for many decades and has not been resolved. And the problems are not limited to illegal activities and self-serving actions. Football’s administrators, whether intentionally or due to incompetence, have been failing those the game is there to serve, players and fans, for many years through the mismanagement of their responsibilities.
Who has the power to change this? Who is FIFA answerable to?
The English FA, as an example, has resisted reform over several decades despite pressure from their government. It has been so difficult to change that the British government is now pursuing the creation of a completely new independent body to regulate football, one of the FA’s fundamental responsibilities, though even this becoming a reality is now proving difficult.
Who Can Make Change?
The two most important stakeholders in the game are the players and the fans. It is players that supply the football and the fans that consume it. Everyone else in football are just intermediaries and facilitators for these communities.
We witnessed during the Super League episode that players and fans, when united and vocal, were able to almost instantly prevent something that football’s governing bodies were arguably powerless to stop.
Individual players have achieved a significant amount through supporting social issues that are important to them. England’s Marcus Rashford alone was able to secure £300 million to provide children with meals by using his platform to create pressure on those in powerful positions.
Players should feel equally confident to speak out and push for change on issues closer to home, those that exist with the governance of the game. Failures there affect the entire football community from the grassroots to the professional level. The top players are affected by this too such as the ever-increasing number of games they are required to play, in effect to get more money out of fans' pockets, yet, they have had no say whatsoever in this.
How To Enact Change
Players coming together to speak with one voice on the issues with the running of the game would be hugely powerful. The key is to be united.
Would FIFA still have been able to prevent the wearing of the One Love armband in a stand for LGBT rights if the captains of all the World Cup teams were organised, voiced their opinions in a unified and co-ordinated manner and, if necessary, making their own threats to FIFA? Of course not. FIFA needs the players to make its billions.
One specific solution current players could push for to improve football governance is having players in executive positions so there is an understanding of football, fans and those that play the game when decisions are made and not only considering what will generate more cash.
Currently, powerful and knowledgeable former players find they are blocked from these positions as the incumbents perceive them as threats who will drive change. Players are only granted access to football's corridors of power if they tacitly accept to not challenge the status quo. It is a form of exploitation of former players by the current leaders to gain the credibility, visibility and trust their own actions haven't generated.
The former German captain Philip Lahm highlighted that “Football needs new representatives to deal with its credibility crisis”. Players, if they can unite and be empowered, might be the only ones that can break the cycle and create a brighter future for football before it’s too late.
They possess the power to initiate reform in football so that the values of integrity, inclusion and solidarity are not only promoted through slogans but are also evident in actions. It is time players recognise this, take a stand together and demand change in how the game is governed to leave a legacy for future generations.