The Golden World Cup Trophy of 2006, horizontal as if knocked over on it's side.

The World Cup Trophy from 2006. Credit: Ulf Dietrich via Wikimedia Commons

Is the World Cup Rigged?

Corruption Dec 14, 2022

The thumb on the scale for Messi and his corporate backers.

When I was 18, I went to a party at a dusty trailer park in Southern Colorado. Everyone was smoking cheap cigars, drinking 40s, and watching Insane Clown Posse Wrestling (it's a thing).

I made the drunken mistake of saying, "You guys know this is scripted, right?"

I escaped without a beating (that time), but I think of that night often, usually when I'm confronted with how attached we humans are to our illusions.

Power structures needs heroes and villains.

It's how Bread and Circuses works.

In a crowded marketplace, simple narratives and strong emotions capture attention, creating a smoke screen for the real workings of power. A pantomime villain to distract from the real villains picking everyone's pockets. Hint: It's always the owners of the marketplace.

There's no question the World Cup is corrupt.

From the historical and blatant bribery at FIFA, to the sports-washing efforts of Qatar and the British-born kafala system that continues to claim the lives of thousands of men, to the brewing Qatari bribery scandal that just brought down the vice president of the EU, the crookedness of this event is obvious to anyone willing to look.

But it's always struck me as strange how many of us accept the corruption off the field, but so few accept the corruption on the field.

I've watched every world cup since 2006, when I was in Guatemala, surrounded by Latins and Europeans who showed me the subtleties of the beautiful game. I've been hooked ever since. YNWA.

Soccer is the best of us, and the worst of us too. It's an athletic and tactical spectacle with great moments of shared joy and misery. And it's also a window into the deeper and darker workings of industrial society.

Enter Leonel Messi, one of the greatest moneymakers sport has ever known. According to Forbes, he made $130 million for himself in 2022. Which means he made a lot more for the organizations that hold his reins.

That includes Adidas, Pepsi, and his club team PSG (owned by the Qatari government). And FIFA. Don't forget FIFA. A mega-star like Messi is good for headlines, and that's good for the growth of the game (and filling FIFA's coffers).

So of course they want him to win the tournament. With a win, no player will make more money in endorsement deals, jersey sales, and tickets than Messi.

Not even France's Kylian Mbappé, who's already starting to dominate discussions of football's active 'best player', and is also likely headed to the final, can generate as much of a financial bounce as Leo Messi.

To this conspiracy-minded writer (because people conspire), we should start with the assumption that FIFA and Qatar DO have their thumb on the scale in favor of an Argentina win. Because that's how they'll make the most money.

If they're willing to bribe each other for where the games are played, why wouldn't they be willing to  influence the outcome of the actual games?

Never mind that Leo Messi was allowed to use Human Growth Hormone for years, a substance banned by almost every sport on earth. And never mind that Messi was convicted of tax fraud and had his prison sentence reduced to a fine.

La Pulga who frequently dives and goads his opponents continues to enjoy his squeaky clean reputation.

Listen to the coverage of any game he features in, and you'll hear a torrent of fawning comments directed at him, a player who spends long stretches of many matches just walking around the pitch.

And let's ignore the controversial calls that have gone Argentina's way, and the way they've basically avoided punishment for handballs, hard tackles, and straight-up  taunting of their rivals (Argentina is 'under investigation' for their behavior during the match with Holland).

To prove that FIFA has it's thumb on the scale, we simply have to look at the penalties awarded during this tournament.

There have been 16 penalities awarded during this World Cup, across 32 teams. Argentina has had 4 of them. A full 25%. They've played a few more games than most of the teams, but even still, that's an unbelievable statistic.

So much so that even some players, who are admittedly biased, have begun to publically question the tournament's validity.

What's worse, Messi scored 3 of 4 of his penalties, putting him in contention for the tournament's golden boot. His competitor, Mbappé is also on 5 goals, all from open play. His team, France, have been awarded zero penalties in this tournament so far.

I'm not suggesting that FIFA is telling the referees to fix that matches. There's no reason to be that blatant about it. Writing about editors, Robert Reich, puts it well.

In my experience, most editors, publishers and producers don’t seek to mislead the public. They’re just more attuned to what their corporate owners or political benefactors would like emphasized than to what the public should understand. And their decisions about what’s important to report, what facts to include or exclude, and the implicit choices posed, are becoming ever more concentrated in the hands of very few people. - Robert Reich

What's true for editors is true for referees. They know what their handlers want.

Just because FIFA and Qatar have plausible deniability, doesn't mean their denials are plausible. Only our wishful thinking keeps us from seeing that the World Cup is rigged in favor of the rich and powerful.

France or, inshallah, Morocco could still overcome the weighted scale, but don't be surprised if Argentina lifts the trophy on Sunday. Because that's what the owners want, and there's no bigger Bread and Circuses event than the World Cup.

Gotta run. Morocco vs. France kicks off now. I know it's fixed. And I'm watching anyways.

I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. (Log in and enable cookies on this site to comment.)