The FIFA World Cup is right around the corner, with the tournament getting underway a little later than past events to mitigate some of the brutal Qatar heat.
This year’s first matches are scheduled for November 21, with the finals slated to take place December 18. Controversies surrounding the Qatar World Cup have been going on since it was awarded to the Gulf state, but the accusations of corruption originated before the vote.
Several FIFA officials were accused of bribery in awarding the World Cup to Qatar. Former FIFA President Sepp Blatter went so far as to say that awarding the World Cup to Qatar was a “mistake” because of the high temperatures.
Heat from the sun or politics?
More severe than meteorological concerns have been widespread concerns about allegations surrounding human rights abuses in the construction of stadiums in Qatar, which Amnesty International referred to as a “World Cup of shame.”
Despite the concerns surrounding both FIFA and the World Cup being held in Qatar (and in no way do we want to take away from the seriousness of those things), this is likely to be one of the most significant betting events in the regulated US sports betting market’s short history.
In the background, however, will be a further unraveling of consequences for the top of FIFA as the Swiss justice system now has a go at the organization that once seemed invincible.
Cleaning up FIFA
On June 8, a trial in Bellinzona, Switzerland, began with Blatter and former UEFA head Michel Platini standing as defendants. The two men, who for decades were at or near the top of international soccer, are accused of defrauding the game’s governing body.
According to The Washington Post, at the center of the case is a forged invoice that allowed Blatter to sign off on a 2 million Swiss franc payment to Platini. The payment was allegedly for Platini’s past services rendered as a consultant to Blatter.
Not Blatter’s first rodeo on these allegations
Blatter and Platini were both suspended from international soccer back in 2015 for eight years after the FIFA Ethics Committee found that the payment violated the mens’ obligation to the organization. The Committee decided that there was “no legal basis” for the payment.
The FIFA Ethics Committee again sanctioned Blatter in March 2021 after it found that Blatter and Jerome Valcke, the former FIFA Secretary General, had breached their duties of loyalty to the organization and engaged in conflicts of interest.
As a result, each was suspended for an additional six years and eight months, and fined 1 million Swiss francs, with suspensions beginning after the end of each man’s prior suspension.
Other integrity concerns?
International soccer has long been the victim of match-fixers. While the World Cup itself might be a hard target (though certainly not above speculation of fixing in the past,) international friendlies in the lead-up to the main event can be ripe targets for match-fixers.
Authorities would be wise to be on the lookout for suspicious activity.
A recent report from the data provider and integrity monitoring company Sportradar revealed that their Universal Fraud Detection System saw an uptick in suspicious matches during 2021.
Soccer is king
Despite it lacking popularity in the United States, soccer is king globally. This is true not only in terms of popularity, but also in terms of the betting handle.
According to that same Sportradar report, betting on soccer accounted for 51% of global handle. In addition, UEFA Champions League games saw more than 198 million Euros bet per match. World Cup handle will almost certainly pass those figures.
Mostly a US sports betting first
This will mark the first World Cup where much of the United States has access to legalized sports betting.
One area to watch is whether legal and widespread sports betting can help soccer bridge the gap that has long existed in the United States, where the sport has struggled to gain the same traction that it has in virtually every other country.
With the 2026 World Cup in North America and a field expanding to 48 teams from 32, US sportsbooks will be taking a practice run at the world’s biggest sporting event four years before it unfolds here.
What will we know and when?
The Blatter and Platini trial is scheduled for 11 days, though it probably could have been wrapped up sooner if it were being held full days. Blatter is reportedly in failing health, so the trial will only go until lunchtime each day.
During the first day of the trial, Blatter was scheduled to testify, but could not after experiencing chest pains.
In a departure from the US legal system, we already know that we are expected to have a verdict in the case from the three Swiss federal judges by July 8. If the men are convicted, they each face five years in a Swiss prison.