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Outraged By FIFA? The UN Is Just As Corrupt

Those who believe that the FIFA scandal is an exceptional case among international organizations should think again. The poison is called "global governance."

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and FIFA President Joseph Blatter in Sao Paulo in June 2014
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and FIFA President Joseph Blatter in Sao Paulo in June 2014
Clemens Wergen

-OpEd-

BERLIN — So Sepp Blatter finally folded last week in the face of the U.S. corruption investigations into the dealings of FIFA, the international soccer organization he ran for nearly 18 years. But those who believe that a time of transparency now lies ahead will be bitterly disappointed.

Yes, this is about more than any one man. It's about an entire system that has harmed more than just international football. It's a problem that lies at the heart of many international organizations, and the United Nations itself may be the best example of bad practice.

The UN is just as morally corrupt as FIFA. Just consider the dysfunction of the UN General Assembly or the composition of its offshoots such as the Human Rights Council. There you will find such champions of human rights as Algeria, China, Cuba, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.

Originally, the committee was meant to hold undemocratic and despotic regimes responsible for their actions. But nowadays, they are all just there to provide clean slates for one another, and spend their time indulging in their favorite pastime: criticizing the state of Israel, which happens to be a democracy run by the rule of law.

That same distorted guiding principle of FIFA that counts "one country, one vote" applies to the UN as well. No matter how large the country is, how many inhabitants it has, how much it contributes to the UN budget or how many active footballers it has.

It is the curse of large numbers. Once Western nations have become a minority, it's not possible for them to impose their standards as the general guideline. Especially in Europe, where a stubborn sentimentalism seems to stick. We dream of the day when the entirety of mankind will be united under one UN world government.

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UN General Assembly hall — Photo:Â Patrick Gruban

Such wishful thinking, however, encourages us to lose sight of life's sad but true realities. Once upon a time, the West had the idea of spreading freedom, democratic values, good governance and human rights across the globe. But the reality of international organizations is that autocratic sates and corrupt democracies seek to destroy the noble goals from within, and they actually form the majority.

Scoundrels are in charge in too many organizations, ready to organize an international majority favorably disposed towards them. They master the rules of the global organization and abuse the legitimization it affords them.

At the UN, it is a perversion of the organization's founding principles when countries like China or Cuba are voted onto the Human Rights Council or when a misogynistic country like Iran is voted onto the Women's Rights Council.

And the same way the UN also has helped legitimize bad regimes, we now see how FIFA has done the same, granting the World Cup and its inherent prestige to autocracies like Russia or Qatar.

Reform or revolution?

The West has let this happen for far too long. A romantic notion of international organizations as well as postcolonial feelings of guilt are largely responsible. In the 1990s, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, there was wave of enthusiasm for the UN in Germany. This enthusiasm has now given way to disillusionment and disinterest. But in many cases the West doesn't even try to fight the blatant violations of human rights committed by members of the UN. And talk of reforming it has long faded.

But now is the time to ask the question: Who should wield power? Because the West is still more powerful than the meager voting shares in the UN and FIFA would suggest. The developed industrial nations of the West are still the ones who provide most of the UN budget. And it is the top clubs and national teams of Europe that enable FIFA to land billions worth of TV deals.

It would not only be a crushing blow if the West were to withdraw from both organizations and found new ones. The UN and FIFA would swiftly lose much of its soft power, legitimization and prestige. In short, they would lose everything that makes them attractive to autocrats to "launder" their images.

More than a decade ago, Ivo Daalder and James Lindsay, US foreign affairs experts, had encouraged the formation of a "League of Democracies" that would function as a competitor to the UN. Only approximately 60% of current UN member states would be accepted into such a club of liberal, steadfast democratic states, which would ensure that the new organization would not be manipulated by autocratic regimes and that legitimization would only be given to those who truly deserve it.

This could also be applied to football, if Europe, where the sport was invented, would dare to establish a new organization together with other like-minded nations. After all, people don't pay to see the national teams of Monserrat or the Cook Islands play. They pay because they want to experience a match like Germany vs. Spain or to watch a Champions League final.

So it is actually quite possible to change the sad reality of global governance in many areas, though it requires the courage of revolution. Can the Western nations marshal that? Or will they simply submit to becoming a negligible quantity?

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