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Armour: Chicago, Vancouver Say ‘No’ to World Cup – and FIFA has Itself to Blame

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Brazil and Croatia match at the FIFA World Cup 2014-06-12. By Agência Brasil, via Wikimedia Commons

By Nancy Armour

FIFA’s greed and arrogance will be its downfall.

If that wasn’t clear almost three years ago, when the U.S. Justice Department came knocking on its gilded door with arrest warrants in hand, it was made painfully obvious in Thursday’s announcement of potential host cities for the 2026 World Cup. Glaring by their absence were Chicago, host of the opening game of the 1994 World Cup, and Vancouver, site of the championship game for the Women’s World Cup in 2015.

Both cities, along with Minneapolis, cited FIFA’s demands and the burden they would create.

“FIFA could not provide a basic level of certainty on some major unknowns that put our city and taxpayers at risk,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office said in a statement Wednesday night. “The uncertainty for taxpayers, coupled with FIFA’s inflexibility and unwillingness to negotiate, were clear indications that further pursuit of the bid wasn’t in Chicago’s best interests.”

That isn’t a polite rebuff. It’s a slam-the-door-in-your-face rejection of the world’s greatest sporting event. By the city that is home to U.S. Soccer, no less.

And FIFA, much like the International Olympic Committee, has no one to blame but itself.

Cities and countries have grown tired of these modern day robber barons, who make exorbitant demands in exchange for the “privilege” of holding events that will leave their hosts with white elephant venues and decades of debt. Local leaders and residents have gotten wise to FIFA and the IOC’s games, becoming increasingly willing to say they don’t want to play.

There are 23 cities included in the United States, Mexico and Canada’s joint bid for the 2026 World Cup. That list would be narrowed to 16 if FIFA selects the United Bid, with the decision to be made June 13 during its congress in Russia.

At least the IOC pretends to be aware of its spendthrift ways, touting reforms to its bidding process. FIFA makes no such pretense, posting a 12-page document outlining the tax breaks and funding guarantees it required for a 2026 bid on its website last fall. Among its demands, what amounts to a 10-year tax exemption.

“The FIFA World Cup represents FIFA’s main activity,” FIFA says. “Any tax costs imposed onto FIFA, the 2026 FWC Entity, the 2026 FWC Subsidiaries (if applicable) and/or any other subsidiary of FIFA in relation to the organization of the FIFA World Cup may limit FIFA’s ability to finance the organization and administration of its statutory activities.”

Yes, what a horror it would be if FIFA officials were forced to stay at a five-star hotel instead of a seven. Or have boxed lunches instead of canapes in the FIFA family lounges. Or, shudder, rely on a coach bus for transportation rather than chauffeured cars.

The indignity and injustice would be almost too much to bear.

Another of FIFA’s requirements is that it be allowed to import and export unlimited amounts of foreign currency. Without being taxed, of course.

“Business transactions involving various entities and individuals from all over the world will be executed in connection with the Competition and Competition-related events,” FIFA says.

For an organization that’s been repeatedly rocked by bribery scandals, which has officials that won’t set foot in North America for fear of arrest, that’s mind-bogglingly audacious. No word on whether the hosts also are supposed to provide briefcases and paper bags to make for easier transfer of kickbacks.

FIFA’s requirements are not new. It made similar demands during the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

But the climate has changed. The world has seen the financial toll the World Cup exacted on South Africa and Brazil, and is appropriately wary. The FBI’s crackdown in 2015 laid bare just how morally bankrupt FIFA is.

FIFA and, by extension, its crown jewel, have been tainted. And as any good merchant will tell you, no one wants to pay top dollar for damaged goods.

This article was republished with permission from the original author and 2015 Ronald Reagan Media Award recipient, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today. Follow columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.

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