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Try as they might, good old FIFA just can’t get away from their past.

It is no surprise because when the ‘FIFA Way’ is so ingrained within its culture, it takes more than a change of personnel at the top to fix that culture – even if they are actually inclined to do so.

FIFA has made much of their new-look World Cup bidding process. On the plus side, every member association gets a vote, and Bid documentation is published. It’s why we know that some cities, notably Chicago, pulled out of #United2026 because it was unwilling to sign up to the onerous (and some might say illegal) government guarantees required by FIFA of host cities.

President Gianni Infantino and Secretary-General Fatma Samoura point to these new measures and say ‘Look at what we’ve done to become more transparent’.

However, as I said at the launch of my book, Whatever It Takes – the Inside Story of the FIFA Way in London in January, when it comes to process – which, as a former UN bureaucrat, Samoura is familiar with and experienced at - versus culture, culture wins every time.

To understand this, we need go no further than the Executive Director of #United2026 bid, John Kristick.

He knows all about how football works and how FIFA has made decisions - not just from his time as head of the bid operations team of the #USA2022 bid, but long before. 

Immediately prior to joining #USA2022 John Kristick was at Infront Sports for eight years. For six of those years, he was at the epicentre of Infront’s operations in Zug, Switzerland, down the road from FIFA’s Zurich headquarters. For another two, he was in China heading up Infront’s burgeoning Chinese business.

It is headed by Philippe Blatter, Sepp’s nephew, and today holds more than 170 separate rights in 25 sports.

In 2015, the Chinese Dalian Wanda Group purchased the majority of Infront Sports. The Wanda Group is one of FIFA’s seven major partners. 

Infront Sports rose from the ashes of Kirch Sport, where Kristick worked also. 

Ring a bell? Kirch Sport collapsed under the weight of their debts associated with the purchase of sports rights – most notably the FIFA World Cup.

The owner, Leo Kirch, took over when ISL collapsed. Kirch Sport not only assumed ISL’s debt, but kept going with the same business model, until it too could no longer cope with the weight of FIFA greed.

And guess where Kristick worked before he joined Kirch? ISL.

Remember ISL? International Sports and Leisure was co-founded by the owner of Adidas, Horst Dassler, to help grease the wheels of FIFA decision-making. ISL collapsed in 2001 because of the extent of its debts due to illegal payments throughout the 1990s, revealed by Andrew Jennings in 2010 to total at least US$100 million in respect of football alone.

Of course, Kristick’s work experience at ISL, Kirch Sport and Infront Sports doesn’t mean he was involved in any of the activities of world football administration, its broadcasters, marketing agencies, officials or others that are currently under investigation by the US, Swiss and French authorities.

There’s a small paragraph in the published report written by former deputy chair of the Investigatory Chamber (later chairman) of the FIFA Ethics Committee, Cornel Borbely, as part of the broader Garcia Inquiry which relates how #USA2022 Bid Chairman, Sunil Gulati, was approached by many consultants in relation to the USA bid. Gulati's deputy and now President of the US Soccer Federation, Carlos Cordeiro, agreed. 

Key amongst those consultants touting for business were none other than Peter Hargitay and Fedor Radmann, two of the trio of international consultants subsequently employed by the Australian bid. Kristick worked with Radmann at ISL and Kirch Sports.

Borbely wrote that Gulati and Cordeiro made much of the fact that the #USA2022 had no need of consultants. Every other bidder did. 

The follow-up question of ‘Why?’ was not asked of either Gulati or Cordeiro. John Kristick was apparently not approached by the Garcia investigators at all.

But when it came to the right man for the job to head-up operations for #United2026, Gulati, Cordeiro and other US football officials knew the man who was the perfect fit for FIFA’s culture.


Categories: Opinion | Football Business

#united2026, fifa, world cup bids

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