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.

Philosophical Leadership

Today, the concept of happiness has been so popularised that it has almost become a burden, perhaps even a cliché. There is a booming happiness industry of self-help books and programmes that rarely serve as more than a plaster on a sick and stressed culture. Companies hire ‘chief happiness officers’ in a valiant attempt to measure, weigh and quantify happiness, as if a person were just ‘another brick in the wall’.

The importance of balance

According to Greek philosopher Aristotle, happiness is rather less tangible than the happy pop lyrics of today. To him, happiness was leading a life worth living. Such a life is able to stay in balance despite the changing winds of time.

Even the art of balancing depends on our abilities and general life circumstances. But what seems to be crucial is independence from the time restraints and stress of our surroundings. It is good for our well-being to be extravagant with time every once in a while. Aristotle spoke of the golden mean as the way to a life worth living: neither too much nor too little. This is not as easy as it sounds, which many young people experience in their initial encounters with carousels, candy or alcohol. Buddha also spoke of the Middle Path between austerity and indulgence.

Kill your idols

This balanced path is found or even created as you gradually investigate life’s opportunities. Yet, unlike many contemporary self-help programmes that advocate a one-size-fits-all approach, the philosophical path to a happier life is paved with innumerable exits.

A happier life is never more than a side effect of leading a life worth living, a meaningful life.

It requires an understanding that the world’s so-called ideologies are never more than fleeting ideas disguised as incontestable and unalterable truths. Even Buddha said, ‘If you meet Buddha on the road, kill him.’ Meaning: kill the idealised concept that inhibits a critical examination of your own mind.

Explore, experiment, try things out.

Philosophical love

Instead of focusing on happiness, I suggest concentrating on creating a meaningful existence through cultivating a more caring and loving relationship with all aspects of life: family, friends, work, nature, etc.

I am not, therefore, referring to obsessive narcissistic self-love, nor the romantic love of the nuclear family. Rather, I try to propose a worldlier, more politically or socially transformative love. A love that does not discriminate but embraces life in its multiplicity.

The challenge for a philosophical leader is to step back and make room for love, that is, to relinquish one’s need to control, one’s desire to polish one’s ego.

Only through a more honest and humble approach can we establish meaningful relationships. Only this way can love’s multifaceted revelations become manifest.

Philosophical leadership is about protecting life’s various energies, not one’s own ego. Therein also lies the potential for creating a future without domination; one of trust, respect, care and equality for all.

First published at the TBS blog

How to lead ethically

This paper proposes an alternative approach towards ethical leadership. Recent research tells us that socioeconomic and cultural differences affect moral intuition, making it difficult to locate a guiding organizational principle. Nevertheless, in this paper I attempt to open an alternative path towards an ethics that might serve as a guide for leaders – especially leaders who are leading a highly professionalized workforce. Using the Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño and the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze as points of reference, I develop an ethical form of leadership that is based on a continuous ‘poetic’ dialogue between creation and affirmation. The nature of this dialogue requires a leadership approach that plays both a courageous and imaginative role in liberating its workforce. Last, I develop a frame which provides the constituent principles of leading in the direction of an ethical organization.

Read more here.

Ethical leadership

When we are faced with an undesirable behavior, for example, the use of performance enhancing drugs in cycling (or other sports), we try our best to understand it. Some might refer to the individual’s disposition: genetic makeup, personality traits, character, etc. However, this method doesn’t bring us any real understanding. Unless, of course, we truly believe that almost every professional cyclist until recently were rotten apples. Perhaps, it is more likely that the barrel is rotten (to use Zimbardo’s metaphor).

Does the situation seem familiar?

Once again it has become evident that leaders who are not ethical, are not really leaders.

For example, one might also ask questions such as:

  • What conditions could be contributing to certain actions?
  • What circumstances might be involved in generating a certain behavior?
  • What was the situation from the perspective of the actor?

The point with these questions is to understand what situations a system creates, or what culture the leaders of a society or an organization create. For example, what culture did the International Cycle Union (UCI) create? What culture did it maintain even when everyone knew that something was rotten after the Tour de France-scandal in ’98?

I guess we all know that answer.

For those who don’t know how to define culture it is often defined as a body of beliefs, traditions and guides of behavior shared among members of a society or a sport discipline.

If we go back to the three questions and view them in light of Lance Armstrong’s recent input, then we see how the former Head of UCI Hein Verbruggen (apparently) was neglecting his leadership responsibility. (Is he still an Honorary Member of the International Olympic Committee?).  Hein Verbruggen was, we know that now, not really a leader since he didn’t have the courage and imagination to act responsible. He was shortsighted like a mole. He was letting things pass that were his responsibility to stop. He was too weak to lead. Probably to vague to imagine a different culture, for instance, one where cheating is not silently encouraged; or a culture where the use of performance enhancing drugs is allowed under strict control and advice from doctors.

To recapitulate: What conditions have contributed to the use of performance enhancing drugs (a culture that existed long before Armstrong and didn’t stop with him)? The answer is: The lack of ethical leaders. What conditions might be involved in generating such behavior? Well, knowing that the top leader know about your wrongdoings, but still give you the ok-sign might not make you change your behavior. (It doesn’t take way the individual’s responsibility, but helps us understand why approximately 90% of all Tour de France winners had been doped.) What was the situation from the perspective of the actor, for example, Armstrong? Weird and confusing, I guess, due to the fact that the rules of the games didn’t really have a function. The rules didn’t make any sense. The moral was: Everyone is doing it and no one wants to stop it, so let us just lie about it.

The Head of UCI could have stopped the continuation of a certain culture in 1999. He didn’t.

So, let’s not just blame Armstrong, Ulrich, Zabel, Zülle, Virenque, … for a rotten culture. They just followed the shared guidelines. (Just like we shouldn’t thank Indurain, Merck, and Hinault and so forth for being so pathetically silent right now).

Leaders are those who create a strong ethical context in the culture. Now, unfortunately, the ethical culture in cycling is being defined by jealous and revengeful former cyclist, while the sport – like always – looks for ethical leaders with the courage and imagination to change the culture for good.

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