If there's something worse than discovering that the World Cup is being built on the backs of slaves rented from North Korean President Kim Jong Fat, or having the borders of a putative host nation literally sealed off from the world, it's likely discovering that your own supposedly squeaky clean bid may be dripping with a $300 million bribe.
It just never ends with these guys.
Just last week, FIFA President Gianni Infantino, under pressure from a group of Scandinavian FA Presidents, was forced to admit that yes, FIFA investigators had in fact discovered that the North Korean government was providing "contract workers" to labor on the construction of World Cup 2018 venues.
As originally reported by Josimar in a piece entitled The Slaves of St Petersburg, the Norkos cut a deal to send construction workers to Russia for six million rubles; Fatso would get four million, the contracting company would get a big chunk and the workers would get whatever was left. If anything. Not terribly important really. Not like they're going to complain.
The workers are described variously as "slaves" and "hostages" since all have families still living in Fatso's workers paradise. They sleep between shifts in outdated shipping containers in a "confined, fenced in area" without running water guarded by armed men and dogs, are fed very little, work 7 days a week and never complain. As a Russian laborer told Josimar:
"They are like robots. All they do is work, work, work. They work from seven in the morning until midnight. Every single day. They are never off. They are very good workers, but they look unhappy. They have no life.”
Last Fall, when this situation first became known, a number of international agencies filed formal complaints with FIFA, which never responded. Not until the Scandinavian FA's started making noise did FIFA agree to look into it.
To their credit, UEFA just filed a major complaint with FIFA, requesting an investigation and pointing to the evidence that Infantino knew all about this obscenity a year ago and not only did nothing but in fact he kept it a secret.
I'd be oh so proud to tell you that US Soccer has joined in the complaint but, alas, I cannot.
Of course FIFA has been down this road before, with the well-publicized labor abuses in Qatar which, despite mountains of paper, dozens of studies and a big pile of promises, has not changed. The only thing which has is that Qatar is more closely defining what work is connected with World Cup facilities. By their new definitions, there are only about 20 guys actually working on WC 2022 venues; everybody else is working on "ancillary" projects.
And still dropping over dead on a regular basis.
Nonetheless, FIFA did end up generating a lot of rules and guidelines and directives about how laborers working on World Cup projects must be treated, and unpaid slaves working 18 hour days and living in shipping containers under armed guard is - shockingly - not permitted.
So Infantino was forced to issue a statement admitting that yes indeed there were in fact North Koreans who might reasonably be deemed "slaves" working on some of the stadiums and asking the Russkies to please cut it out. Which they claim they have, although it's believed that the workers, as in Qatar, have simply been transferred to other projects not strictly under FIFA control.
Following closely behind in the news cycle was the story of how Qatar's neighbors are unhappy with them over this whole "supporting terrorists" thing which everyone seems to be making such a fuss over these days.
Or perhaps, in this case, "supporting different terrorists than the ones WE support" would be more accurate. I don't truly know and neither do you so please spare me your valuable insights into which side you think is right. Thanks.
Anyway, all of that is beside the point, which is simply that every last rivet, girder, toilet bowl and light bulb they need to build all those stadiums - even without the magical flying air conditioners, which sadly don't seem to be part of the plan any more - not to mention the replacement slave laborers for the ones they keep killing, all have to come from elsewhere.
Now if this embargo/blockade dealio only lasts a few weeks or even a couple months it probably won't matter much. Yes, the schedule was already looking pretty tight and they've begun cutting the number of stadiums and hotels and such that they originally promised so there's not a lot of wiggle room left, but if they can just cut back on all those water breaks and days off and lavish meals maybe they can get a little more work out of them before they collapse from heat prostration.
They can be hopeful.
It'll be interesting to see how that all works out, particularly since everyone's favorite backup plan is to call up Sunil Gulati and say "Hey, Sunny, boopsie! You remember that World Cup we screwed you out of....?"
Which brings us to the 2026 World Cup venue award.
As you've probably heard, the US (or rather CONCACAF) asked the FIFA Council to, essentially award them 2026 right now. A long bidding process, according to them, is how the last bids got all tangled up in bribes and graft and stuff which culminated in the late night paddy wagon visit to the Bau au Lac hotel and all those FIFA BigWigs being hauled off to jail.
What they asked for was to have the process "fast tracked" and since there are currently no other bids - and probably won't be - CONCACAF would get their World Cup.
Of course everyone has agreed all along that a) to be fair and/or b) to try and placate the US Dept of Justice, the US was really owed 2026 based on the fact that Qatar blatently stole 2022. That plus the fact that by 2026 it will be over 30 years since the region hosted and it's our turn anyway.
The council decided to slow it down just a bit to see if they can find at least one more bidder to make the lawyers happy - Morocco? Really? - but it's no secret that they're hot to hand it over to CONCACAF as quickly as possible. Everybody knows it's in the bag.
But then the good people at NewFIFANow came up with a fascinating discovery:
As you'll recall, Fox and Telemundo won the rights - in an open, competitive bid process - to North American broadcast of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
But when FIFA decided they were going to be holding said tournament in the Winter (to avoid doing to the players what they are already doing to the construction workers) they had a problem because the TV contracts clearly specify a Summer World Cup.
A Winter tournament isn't nearly as desirable for them for a number of obvious reasons.
So they all gathered in Zurich at Sepp Blatter's behest to iron things out and the solution was a simple one: to award Fox and Telemundo the rights to 2026 at 2018 rates, a pretty nice bargain (although no one was quite sure where Sepp got the authority to do it). But there was a kicker that nobody knew about:
The original contract stipulated that if the World Cup is held in North America that Fox and Telemundo would give FIFA an additional $300 million. Current estimates from people who know these things claim that the North American broadcasters stand to make an additional $500 million on the thing.
Which is a big, BIG reason why FIFA is happy- even anxious - to end the bidding process, close out any other bidders and hand 2026 over to CONCACAF: FIFA stands to rake in a bunch of additional money that they won't get if it's anywhere else.
Interestingly, this "incentive payment" (some people are calling it a bribe) from the broadcast rights holder was part of the 2022 bid; no new offers were made.
But, some people are now asking, if this is so then how on Earth could the old ExCo have turned it down and given the thing to Qatar in the first place? FIFA just doesn't turn down $300 million cash.
Then somebody noted that the TV rights holder for 2022 is....al Jazeera. The same al Jazeera that is owned by the Qatari government/royal family.
So some cynical people are suggesting that the Qatari bid, in addition to all the regular, normal bribes, also contained a broadcaster incentive and that it was bigger than the one that Fox/Telemundo was offering.
Certainly seems likely, doesn't it?
So now that 2026 is on the table, Infantino is desperate to scoop up all that cash to help cover the massive nut he has committed to in order to get elected. And unless somebody else is coming in with a better offer, that $300 million for staging the thing in North America is a deal closer.
Take it to the bank.