FIFA and the Refusal of Moral Progress

It has become obvious that something is rotten in the internal governing body of football (soccer), the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA). Qatar is the evidence.

If FIFA wishes to achieve new goals or pursue a vision for a better future, then it needs a leader. Or different leaders. Leadership is often described as “doing the right thing.” Knowing what is the right thing to do and how to defend this position, for example, by arguing why it is right, makes a leader ethical.

It might be too late for FIFA due to the growing number of scandals. However, if it manages to regain some sort of confidence from its stakeholders—fans, sponsors, players, and the public—it needs ethical and responsible leadership.

For more than ten years, the nomination of Qatar as host of the World Cup has been infected by a growing list of ethical problems. To mention just the two most prominent ones: the numerous deaths of migrant workers, who built the stadiums, and the denial of basic human rights for LGBT people and women.

During the past two years, public protest has escalated as many journalists have created exemplary investigative and critical journalism about FIFA and Qatar.

Still, FIFA has refused to take responsibility. This became obvious when the current president of FIFA, Gianni Infantino, gave his opening speech the day before the tournament started. Infantino showed that FIFA does not want to change because it does not care about people’s lives and human rights.

In his opening speech, Infantino presented a mixture of moral subjectivism and cultural relativism. He exhibited moral subjectivism when he reduced ethics to his opinions and emotions, claiming that he “feels like” a migrant worker, a gay person, an Arab, etc. He showed cultural relativism when he claimed that Europeans should not criticize other countries due to their history. Instead, he suggested that Europeans must respect Qatari culture, and since Qatar sees homosexuality as deviant and women as inferior, Europeans must simply accept this. Therefore, Infantino and FIFA believe that human beings cannot and should not achieve moral progress. The fact that homosexuality is accepted and legal and that gender equality is being strived for in Europe (and elsewhere) should not be seen as better than the situation in Qatar, according to Infantino.

If FIFA had studied ethics—perhaps read Carol Galligan´s work on care ethics, which encourages us to view what happens around us from a place of empathy, or Aristotle´s virtue ethics, according to which you perform certain actions because they are good—would things have been different with the 2022 World Cup? I believe so. This is why leadership and ethical studies are strongly needed in the world of sport—because there is only one world.

Unfortunately, FIFA’s charade has not ended. The Belgium team has been told to remove the word “love” from the collar of their t-shirts, and several teams have been told that their captains cannot wear the “One Love” armband. If they do, they will receive a yellow card.

FIFA is taking politics and sports to a new level. Sadly, it is the lowest one ever.

First published in The Sport Digest

Finn Janning, PhD, is a philosopher who teaches in Sport Ethics, Sport Psychology and Sport Coaching.