Sometimes I have trouble explaining to non-soccer fans the depths of FIFA's evil. I try various approaches like hauling around an imaginary money sack or quoting Stalin, but none of it seems to do the trick. FIFA is so "cartoonishly evil", as John Oliver memorably put it, that to properly represent its nature is to render the conversation fictional. But there is one approach that tends to work: comparing FIFA to the NFL.
Most Americans understand that the NFL front office sucks. They're able to separate their love of the sport with their distaste of how it is run, which is exactly where soccer fans stand regarding FIFA. Once that bridge is gapped, the rest is easy.
This is not meant to be a comprehensive cataloguing of either organization's deeds, but a quick overview. So using the NFL as our unit of measurement, let's look at FIFA's depravity.
Crimes Committed by Representatives/Organizational Oversight
One NFL owner was charged with DUI and possession. Another was found liable of what a judge called "organized crime-type fraud." Another is under federal investigation for all kinds of fraud. Ugly stuff.
Two longtime FIFA executive committee members were kicked out for corruption, accepting bribes so they would vote for Qatar to win the World Cup bid, ultimately resulting in all those predicted deaths we discussed earlier. Chuck Glazer, another executive committee member, is comically corrupt, conning CONCACAF out of millions over the last two decades and committing widespread tax evasion in the process.
Insofar as anything can be proven, this is actually a much more even comparison than one might think. As a non-governmental entity, FIFA governs itself, appointing its own ethics committee and determining what it investigates, kind of like how Roger Goodell adjudicates appeals of his own disciplinary rulings. Still, I think it's safe to assume FIFA's corruption and extra-legal practices extend far beyond what we currently know. Nevertheless, NFL owners don't get nearly enough recognition for tending to be slimy crooks, partly because these shady dealings are rarely associated with the teams themselves. This is the exact opposite of FIFA, where the corruption is inextricably linked to soccer dealings.
EVIL METRIC: Two NFLS
Spending Tax Dollars
The NFL has spent the last three decades replacing nearly every stadium with a shiny new one that has better food, more luxury boxes and less parking. According to Harvard professor Judith Grant Long's Public-Private Partnerships for Major League Sports Facilities, the 31 NFL stadiums currently in use cost the public $11.6 billion in taxpayer funds, including tax breaks and infrastructure improvements. Throw in the costs of the NFL's list of Super Bowl demands -- constant dedicated police presence, motorcades, etc. -- for an extra few million a year, and you're still shy of the $12 billion mark.
The most recent estimates for the Brazil World Cup make the NFL look downright benevolent. The 12 World Cup stadiums are estimated to have a total price tag of $4.2 billion averaging $350 million a pop, or roughly double the average public contribution to each new NFL stadium. (Unlike the NFL, where teams usually make at least a nominal contribution, FIFA pays nothing for World Cup stadiums.) Once you factor in other World Cup-related costs -- it takes more than just stadiums, after all -- the total Brazil 2014 price tag is estimated at $11 billion. A lot of money, right? If Qatar does indeed host the 2022 World Cup, costs are already estimated to soar beyond $200 billion. The 2018 World Cup in Russia won't be cheap, either, already estimated at more than $20 billion.
Let's assume these cost estimates for the 2014, 2018 and 2022 World Cups are accurate, which they almost certainly won't be. That means these three months of soccer will cost their respective countries a total of $231 billion, or almost 20 times the NFL's cost to the taxpayers since the stadium boom began.
While the figures are catastrophic in themselves, the money spent on sporting events in South Africa and Brazil is far more damaging to their developing economies than taxpayer funds spent on stadiums in America. These countries can ill afford to waste billions of dollars on soccer stadiums that will go virtually unused after the tournament. FIFA knows this and doesn't care one iota, making the host countries spend all the money while FIFA takes the profit.
EVIL METRIC: 20 NFLS
Abhorrent Public Comments
The NFL has a racist team name. That's pretty bad -- and the NFL has said plenty of dumb things relating to that team name -- but I bet Sepp Blatter can show Goodell a thing or two about putting a foot in one's mouth.
Google "Sepp Blatter gaffes" and you'll be bombarded with listicle after listicle of his most embarrassingly offensive outbursts. There was the time he said on-field racism could be solved with a handshake; or that gay people should refrain from having sex if they attend the World Cup in Qatar, where homosexuality is illegal; or that John Terry would have been applauded in Latin countries for having an affair with his teammate's ex-girlfriend; or responding to questions about whether FIFA is in a crisis by asking, "What is a crisis?"; or the time he called player contracts "modern slavery" (which looks especially bad in retrospect); or when he suggested women soccer would be more popular if they played in tighter shorts. And that's just from one person.
According to the 2010 census, just about two percent of the U.S. population is Native American. Offending 5.2 million people is horrible, but FIFA scoffs at such a minor infraction. Sepp Blatter has personally offended women, homosexuals, Latin Americans and logic. I'm going to ballpark it and say that's roughly 65 percent of the global population, or 4.66 billion people.
EVIL METRIC: 1,600 NFLS
(No, I'm not going to paste 1.600 NFL logos. There are 100 right there, so that 16 more times.)
Physical Harm Created
More than 4,800 players are suing the NFL in the ongoing concussion litigation. The NFL allegedly (but, I mean, come on) withheld knowledge of the dangers football presented. The NFL is also being sued for doping up former players and not telling them about their injuries so they would keep playing high as a kite. Bad, evil stuff.
For the sake of argument, let's assume every single one of those plaintiffs is in the process of extreme suffering and premature death as a direct result of the NFL's liable policies. Even in that worst-case scenario, the NFL still falls short of FIFA's harm to mankind.
According to ESPN's excellent, haunting investigative reporting, the most conservative estimates available predict 4,000 deaths directly resulting from the construction of the Qatar World Cup: Workplace accidents, overexertion in extreme heat, deplorable living conditions lacking any semblance of sanitation or safety. That is to say nothing of the violent FIFA-encouraged Brazilian favela crackdowns in the years leading up to the World Cup, removing tens of thousands of people from their homes.
Still, there's a fundamental difference between the organizations here. Despite what Adrian Peterson might believe, NFL players aren't slaves. They sign contracts and are free to stop playing football at any time. On the other hand, Qatari workers are quite literally slaves. Upon arriving to the country, their passports are confiscated and held in their employer's administrative office. They cannot switch jobs and they cannot leave the country. (Note: this is not an argument for why the NFL isn't liable or terrible, just drawing a distinction here.) None of this is news to FIFA, since these Qatari labor practices were fully in place when the tournament was awarded to them in 2010.
Perhaps the worst part is we're just getting started. Qatar is expected to recruit 1.5 million more laborers to help build all the stadiums and infrastructure necessary for the tournament. Condemning 1.5 million workers to slavery is not just evil, it's antebellum evil. Especially in light of the bribery allegations, FIFA executives sold millions of people's freedom and thousands of lives to pocket a few million dollars. It doesn't get much worse than that.
EVIL METRIC: 1.5 million NFLS
(That's a thousand NFLs. 1,500 more of those.)