June 11, 2014 6:27 pm
But that is not a sufficient explanation: basketball and baseball are played casually, and Venezuela and other countries have shown that it is possible to ruin even a fail-safe commodity – in that case oil and gas production – through rent-seeking cronyism. Soccer could have been similarly cursed.
Fifa has avoided this fate until now because it has two competitive advantages over US sporting bodies. The first is that football is integrated – amateur and professional games are unified through associations.
Professional soccer leagues such as Serie A in Italy and Germany’s Bundesliga are powerful and their clubs are wealthy, but they do not control the national game.
This sounds arcane but it makes a huge difference to the incentives: leagues exist to advance their own interests and those of their member clubs, while the central task of the associations is to cultivate the game.
The state of baseball is of secondary interest to Major League Baseball; football is Fifa’s raison d'être.
Fifa’s advantages have given football strength in depth and reach, and transformed the World Cup into a global tournament on a par with the Olympic Games (also run by a Swiss-based sports association).
All of this could be undermined by Fifa’s flaws.
Sports associations and leagues have proved fragile before and it is easy to imagine a Fifa split. What if the World Cup were removed from Qatar, and it held a tournament for resentful African and Asian nations at the same time? The European leagues, with their €20bn annual revenues, could sever their links with the rebels.
That would be a tragedy, not only because it could be avoided through governance reform, but because it would destroy Fifa’s achievements since 1904. It is a blatantly flawed enterprise but it has achieved great things. Think what it might do if it were run properly.