Commentary

FIFA has a Russia problem

Only now will attention turn to Russia and the 2018 World Cup, and we're surely in for a rocky ride. It begins with next month's Confederations Cup -- the World Cup dress rehearsal -- and FIFA is already facing questions on multiple fronts about its Russian adventure.

The focal point: the Zenit Arena in Vladimir Putin's hometown, St. Petersburg. The $800 million venue is scheduled to host the Confederations Cup opening game and final.

FIFA describes the stadium, located on Krestovsky Island, as built with "a vision of a spaceship that has landed on the shores of the Gulf of Finland." What it is only now admitting is that the stadium was built with the help of North Korean citizens whose working conditions were “often appalling."

That's the term FIFA president Gianni Infantino used in a letter that was written to the presidents of four Nordic federation presidents who protested about what was termed slave labor and that was seen by the Guardian.

But that's only one of several embarrassing problems related to the stadium that only opened this year after long delays.



Marat Oganesyan, a former vice-governor of St. Petersburg, was arrested last fall on charges of being involved in a kickback scheme with the subcontractor who built the stadium scoreboard.

A more immediate issue: the quality of the playing field at Zenit Arena. It was supposed be a state-of-the-art field, but there were bald spots and loose clumps of turf when the stadium opened for a Russian league match involving home team Zenit St. Petersburg over Ural Yekaterinburg.

A third test match was canceled and Zenit was forced to move a league match against FC Krasnodar last week to its former Petrovsky Stadium to save the Zenit Arena grass from wear and tear. Stadium officials and the turf supplier have gone back and forth with excuses about why the grass is in such poor shape.

Infantino met with Putin and Russian deputy prime minister and former sports minister Vitaly Mutko, who is the president of the Russian soccer federation, on Tuesday in Krasnodar to discuss Russia's preparedness for the World Cup.

One thorny issue: A stalemate between Russian broadcasters and FIFA over media rights to the Confederations Cup and World Cup. TASS reported that FIFA wants $120 million for the rights, or almost four times what Russian broadcasters paid four years ago. As it stands now, Russians won't be watching the eight-team Confederations Cup that starts June 17, though Mutko is optimistic about getting a deal done.

"We will settle this issue in the near future, at least regarding the Confederations Cup, but perhaps regarding the World Cup as well," Mutko told TASS.

Infantino's Russian problem has tainted FIFA politics. Critics of Infantino claim Portuguese Miguel Maduro was removed as chairman of the FIFA governance committee as part of a housecleaning of FIFA ethics and governance veterans because he refused the clear Mutko, a former member of the FIFA executive committee dating back to the 2010 hosting decisions on the 2018 and 2022 World Cup, to run for the new FIFA council. That left the next World Cup hosts in the embarrassing situation of not have a representative on FIFA's highest body.

Maduro based his decision on Mutko’s position as deputy prime minister conflicting with FIFA’s ethical rules banning members from serving in governmental roles.

(More generally, sports fans might know Mutko from serving as the face of the Russian government in response to Russia's doping scandal.)

10 comments about "FIFA has a Russia problem".
  1. charles davenport, May 25, 2017 at 9:27 p.m.

    FIFA also has a Qatar problem--stadiums built with slave labor, dead Nepalese. I won't be watching.

  2. R2 Dad, May 26, 2017 at 12:51 a.m.

    whodda thunkit! As soon as FIFA clears this cluster, its got Qatar. No one will feel sorry for FIFA over this self-inflicted wound.

  3. Dennis Mueller, May 26, 2017 at 1:24 a.m.

    Maybe it is time to list FIFA as a terror organization, or at least as one that promotes and facilitates human trafficking.

  4. ROBERT BOND, May 26, 2017 at 8:59 a.m.

    not going-caught DFB v Czechs, catching San Marino-Germany dangerous enough...

  5. Quarterback TD, May 26, 2017 at 10:08 a.m.

    FIFA needs to focus on the game and stop worrying about who build what and how. That's outside your scope.. if you are going to worry about North Korea building stadiums I suggest you turn your attention to them as that is the source. But I am sure they will not do that.. Also this is just mumbling by FIFA they are not going to do JACK..

  6. Bob Ashpole replied, May 26, 2017 at 12:29 p.m.

    The problem is that FIFA didn't focus on the merits of the bids when they awarded the 2018 and 2022 competitions. Right now FIFA is appropriately worried about Russia's failure to deliver the facilities that it promised. FIFA is reaping the fruits of its past corruption.

  7. Nick Daverese, May 26, 2017 at 7:53 p.m.

    i just think of it as cheap labor :) they use the Turks in Germany and we use the Mexicans here.

  8. Ric Fonseca replied, May 28, 2017 at 6:16 p.m.

    Mr. Daverese, your comment about Mexicans being used here is somewhat way out in left field, because, mi amigo, the article refers to the construction of sports-soccer stadia, and thus your comment doesn't apply. I call your attention to a front page article appearing in today's LA Times about "cheap labor (sic)" and it doesn't even mention anything about cheap sports stadia labor, but cheap agricultural workers, and the one and only sort of "mention" of soccer is a photo of these agricultural workers having a little fun heading the ball in a dark parking lot... Oh well, PLAY ON!!!

  9. Nick Daverese, May 29, 2017 at 8:54 a.m.

    I live in NYC. I get a lot of work done on my house with non union workers. Those workers make maybe 60 dollars a day. Why do the workers work so cheap? They can't speak English so they can't make better deals for themselves. What they should do is learn English. But we don't want them to learn English now in this country for a reason. We want them to be dependent on others so they can be controlled by others. While their bosses who are also Mexican make the lions share of the costs to do the work. I had a new roof put on during the storm Irene that was the storm before Sandy. It cost me 15 thousand. They did it in two days not the two weeks union workers and 50 thousand. You would not believe how much I paid to have the debre of the old roof removed from my premises. Pay the right people you save a lot of money. I use the people where I can save the most money it's simply comes down to money in the end.

  10. I w Nowozeniuk, May 31, 2017 at 5:36 p.m.

    FIFA caught the International Olympic Organization "money fever" decades ago and with its 2018 & 2022 venues it has become an enabler of human rights issues. These two venues have no qualities. As for ND's comment, you're not out pocket for 15K for the new roof amigo, your insurance covered it.

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