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.

Learn to philosophize

Today, we live in a society organized mainly by capitalism. Not only is making money an objective that guides many people’s lives, but so are prestige, status, and social identity. Even when corporations claim that “people come first,” they refer to their employees’ skills and experiences as “human capital” or “cultural capital.”

Everything we do is a currency that can be counted. This problem can be seen through two concepts: power and freedom.

Today, the power that controls us (i.e. status, prestige, identity) appears invisible unless we pay very careful attention. But—and this is the problem—we rarely pay attention because that which works as an invisible or imperceptible power is also what seduces us not to pay attention.

The consequence is that we are not free. Freedom can be seen as both a problem and a possibility. It is becoming, emphasizing that we become by combining courage to stand against dominating ideals and norms with the imagination that things could be different. Thus, freedom is more than my individual liberty to do whatever I feel like doing because that neglects how everything is interconnected. Freedom is social; it’s about succeeding in creating a sustainable future—together.

Most philosophers – and this is probably no surprise – suggest that thinking is the best remedy against today’s maladies. But in order to think philosophically (i.e. reflect, contemplate, analyze) we must be capable of loving, that is, relating to others and the world with care.

Socrates is the example. He philosophized for free. And he showed that philosophy is social. Perhaps for that reason is it difficult to philosophize today when we have become too narcissistic. “The narcissistic-depressive subject only hears its own echo… Social media like Twitter and Facebook aggravate this development, they are narcissistic media,” wrote Korean philosopher Byung-Chul Han In The Swarm.

The question, therefore, is: how do we learn to pay attention?

Philosophy and mindfulness in the schools

The answer is to bring philosophy and mindfulness to schools at all levels, although my errand here is at business schools. Business is, of course, part of the current problem as well as it can become a crucial part of the solution.

Mindfulness is easy to implement as a non-religious meditation practice which helps cultivate and strengthen our capacity to pay attention. With this in mind, future leaders can with greater success make sustainable and responsible decisions that are not grounded in their own egos, or the ego of the board members. The point is to cultivate an awareness that will gradually make it desirable to make decisions on behalf of others – if for no other reason, then because we are all connected.

The combination of philosophy and mindfulness, I believe, is one the strongest assets against today’s rigid achievement society that makes many of us suffer in a way that very few people realize that they themselves are the perpetrators of their own misery. It’s also a strong tool against the current idea that transparency per se is good, although it undermines the most elementary of human relations: trust.

Still, before future leaders can act in a sustainable way, they must be aware of what is actually going on. And it is here that business schools can be part of creating a better future for all, because instead of speaking about attention and concentration, we can develop it. And once future leaders are aware, they will also question some of the models used in business.

The blogpost was originally post at Esencialblog at Toulouse Business School – Barcelona.

Philosophical Counseling

Some years ago, I was teaching a course in Philosophical Counseling. To my surprise, all that the students wanted to know was “What is the right thing to do?” Having that knowledge, they assumed, would make life easier. “Perhaps,” I said, “but not better or more interesting.”

Their request is part of the obsessive achievement eagerness of today’s society to perform well according to fixed ideals. It creates dullness when it comes to mental exercises. The unfortunate norm is the faster the better. I told them that philosophy is about developing problems, not delivering solutions. It’s a slow practice. It’s for life. My answer made them fidget with impatience. To philosophize, I emphasized, is to dwell on the fundamental questions, and these questions are developed in problems, just as the problems are enveloped in fundamental questions.

Yet, my students insisted: “So, what is the right question?”

I told them that this particular question was related to the problem embedded in the question. For example, how do you draw a clear distinction between right and wrong?

The ones who weren’t paying attention looked up from their screens.

In sports, where the rules are given, I said, it is rather obvious to tell whether a player is “doing it wrong.” Similarly, in business, where profit seems to guide every decision, knowing what is right and wrong may be easier. Life, however, is neither a game nor a business, although there is a tendency to classify people into winners and loser as if life were that simple. Such labeling is part of today’s achievement society. Everyone’s performance is measured according to an ideal–and ideal that is often related to the staus, prestige, power, and, of course, money that is associated with being a winner.

They went silent, so I went on. Of course, there are things in life that are rather obvious. For instance, no one needs philosophy to tell you that it is wrong to kill, discriminate against, or repress other people. Instead, philosophy begins when we start to questioning the obvious. Could I live another life? What is also possible? How may I also live?

A part of philosophy is to accept that some problems remain without solution; some questions can’t be answered once and for all.

Such a question is Which life is worth living?

Of course, one of my students then asked me: “Which life is worth living?”

This is how A Philosophy of Mindfulness – A Journey with Deleuze begins.


The risks of flexibility

“… we live in a world where we constantly have to perform or achieve something –often in a smiley and positive way– and still we presume ourselves to be free, although in reality we voluntarily exploit ourselves until we collapse.”

I recently did an interview with the Spanish paper Expansion about flexibility, stress, positivity, and leadership.

The entire interview can be read here.


A Philosophy of Mindfulness

 A Philosophy of Mindfulness is out!


In this book, I argue that we need a “new” philosophy because we—many of us, at least—are blind. We see rather little of that which surrounds us.

By mixing mindfulness with the affirmative philosophy of Gilles Deleuze, I unfold a philosophy of mindfulness. A philosophy that makes us less blind but also ethically responsible in relation to what we experience. Hereby, I move mindfulness from the sphere of psychology into philosophy, or from being primarily an inward-turned practice to an out-turned one.

A Philosophy of Mindfulness puts emphasis on experience, experiment, and actualization or affirmation. Each experience matters; life is the experience of making contact or being connected with what is in the midst of becoming—that is, life—and then passing it on to the next generations.

Mindful leadership for beginners

We all know the simple moral principle that the buyers of stolen goods are as guilty as the thief. I recall this principle from childhood. The point is that the thief wouldn’t steal if no one was buying—at least a thief wouldn’t steal because of greed or arrogance, but perhaps only to meet his or her basic needs, e.g., food.

This moral principle touches upon a basic microeconomic model: supply and demand.

Continue reading here.

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