Brazil 2014

Sepp Blatter's FIFA, Ugly Side Of The Beautiful Game

A Latin American call for the global soccer chief to step aside amidst ongoing corruption investigations. Yet even a Blatter-less FIFA would still have a long road to rectitude.

Red card for Sepp Blatter, at last?
Red card for Sepp Blatter, at last?

SANTIAGO — About three billion people, almost half the world's population, will be watching at least one match in the World Cup that began last week in Brazil. Soccer is by far the world's most popular sport, and a passion shared by people from Argentina to England, Israel to Afghanistan.

Some might even view the World Cup, quite reasonably, as globalization at its best.

Given the attention soccer commands across the world, and the money it moves — The Economist magazine estimated that every World Cup match this year will generate business worth almost $1 billion — the happenings in the sport's governing body are a disgrace.

The most recent scandal was revealed in Britain's Sunday Times, days before the World Cup began. The paper obtained documents purportedly showing that bribes led FIFA to select Qatar as the seat of the 2022 World Cup. It was a contested decision from the start, considering Qatar's summer temperatures, which exceed 40 °C (104 °F), and the risk of a terrorist attack cited in a security report FIFA itself had commissioned.

According to the Sunday Times, a former member of the FIFA executive committee and Qatari national, Muhammad bin Hammam, paid other board members $5 million to ensure Qatar would be chosen for 2022. FIFA had previously expelled bin Hammam for misconduct.

It is not the first time FIFA is suspected of corruption. Rumors have abounded of referees being bribed to fix the results of friendly matches before the 2010 Cup. The body's former vice-president Jack Warner resigned amid charges of stealing FIFA funds. There have been enough cases of corruption or unethical conduct to involve almost half the body's current directors.

All this has happened since Joseph "Sepp" Blatter, a now 78-year-old from Switzerland, became President in 1998. Blatter recently managed to have the FIFA board reject a motion to set age and term limits for an elected president. He then proceeded to present his candidacy for a fifth consecutive term, in elections due in 2015.

Blatter has not been linked to any proven illegal action. But he has at best done everything to overlook scandals and leave unpunished the people involved in evident cases of corruption. After the Sunday Times claimed that the majority of bribed directors were African representatives, Blatter dismissed the allegations regarding Qatar 2022 as a piece of Western racism against African nations.

Blatter is a public relations disaster for global soccer. He has made comments on women that would have had him fired as CEO of any firm. He once broke a minute's silence for Nelson Mandela after 11 seconds, and earnestly claimed days ago that soccer would soon be played on other planets.

Corporate pressure

It doesn't say much for FIFA that Blatter's rival as its next president is Michel Platini, one of the directors who backed Qatar for 2022. It is not difficult to see why FIFA is reluctant to change. South Africa invested $3 billion in sporting infrastructures for the 2010 Cup, and received $300 million from ticket sales and tourism. FIFA itself earned $3.5 billion from broadcasting and sponsorship fees.

U.S. President Barack Obama and Sepp Blatter — Photo: Pete Souza

FIFA's inner workings would have had heads rolling in any other institution, and Blatter should have resigned long ago. But even if he did so now, as several European representatives are demanding, the problem would remain.

Organized as a non-profit body in Switzerland, FIFA is accountable to nobody. No government or group of states can govern or regulate it. Soccer associations across the world receive money from FIFA, which makes it difficult for any of them to stand up to it.

Paradoxically, the challenge to FIFA is coming from certain global firms sponsoring the World Cup. So far, Adidas, BP, Budweiser, Coca Cola, Sony and Visa have urged FIFA to do everything to clarify the Qatar controversy and similar charges relating to Russia in 2018.

Their calls are commendable, but will change little. Efficient regulation of FIFA requires concerted action by member states, starting with Switzerland, where the body is based. As a non-profit organization, FIFA pays no taxes. Switzerland could threaten to end its exemption if it does not clean up its act.

If bribery allegations over Qatar are proven, Blatter and FIFA will have sabotaged soccer's chance to become truly global by winning mass interest in the U.S., which was Qatar's rival to host the 2022 Cup.

In any case, a first step in reforming FIFA would be to force Blatter to go, and Latin American states should join their European counterparts to demand his resignation. If he is toppled during this World Cup, the winners will be all member states — and soccer itself.

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7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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