FIFA Uncovered interview: Miles Coleman on politics in football as his Netflix documentary exposes corruption

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FIFA Uncovered producer Miles Coleman chats with NationalWorld’s Susanna Sealy about corruption and politics in football

We are now in the midst of the world’sFIFA World Cup Fantasy: alternative picks following latest Qatar 2022 injuries"> first ever winter World Cup, and the first to take place in a Muslim and Arabic-speaking country. Bringing the FIFA World Cup to a new corner of the planet should have been a time for celebration and education, yet the tournament has been mired in controversy.

A perfectly timed Netflix docuseries, FIFA Uncovered, details the corruption and coercion of football’s powerful governing body over four hour-long episodes. I sat down with the documentary’s producer Miles Coleman to ‘uncover’ yet more drama from FIFA, as the action continues in Qatar...

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The release date of the Netflix ‘true-crime’ drama, as it is now being referred to, was 9 November, just 11 days before the start of the 2022 World Cup. This was no coincidence. Coleman says that this is the time people most need the information that has so far remained relatively untapped, despite being surprisingly freely accessible. He says “the conversation would never be louder or reach further than it does at this moment.”

Coleman’s documentary delves far deeper into the dark hole of the world of FIFA than just the shocking 2010 bidding decision. At the grim heart of all of it is the realisation that football and power are so inextricably intertwined, with no likelihood of separation any time soon.

“There is a platitude that football and politics shouldn’t mix - they do mix, they’ve mixed pretty comfortably since the 1970s,” Coleman says. “Football and politics are in bed together and to ignore it is either to play willful ignorance or you don’t like how they are relating and you wish it would all just go away. The question isn’t whether we can remove politics and football. The question is what do we do about it?”

It’s a question which feels impossible to be answered, at least in this lifetime. The global reach of the sport means that FIFA executive chiefs sit at the top of the food chain along with princes, prime ministers and presidents. When Gianni Infantino, the current doyen of FIFA, calls for the politics to be taken out of the World Cup while he also says European countries should apologise for criticising Qatar, it seems hard to imagine there can be a time where football goes back to being purely about 22 players fighting it out on the pitch.

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And so we come to the question of how Qatar is hosting this World Cup. A bid that, in my naivety, I believed the documentary’s antagonist Sepp Blatter to be fully behind, only to discover he in fact wished to be seen, as Coleman tells me from his off-the-record sources, as some sort of Cold War hero by staging a 2018 Russian World Cup followed by a 2022 USA World Cup. Ironically, Blatter believed a Qatari World Cup could ruin FIFA, but more crucially, he knew a US World Cup would be much more lucrative for his beloved organisation.

Gianni Infantino (L) with Russian president Vladimir Putin in 2017Gianni Infantino (L) with Russian president Vladimir Putin in 2017
Gianni Infantino (L) with Russian president Vladimir Putin in 2017 | Getty Images

However, much to his chagrin and what then became his eventual downfall, Qatar won the right to host, along with securing the purchase of Airbus jets from France (publicly denied to be linked with Michel Platini’s ultimate decision to vote for the Middle Eastern country) and may now feel they have the support of the West if their neighbouring countries ever decide to attack. Is all of this really meant to be about the hosting of a sports competition?

Well no, obviously not, but much like Coleman has said, it’s about making that noise and raising awareness of the issues, which, given he was part of making a four-part documentary about the issues, he has done rather well. So with all of this background history of alleged extortion and bribery leading up to the Qatar World Cup, along with the reported infringement of human rights and treatment of the LGBTQ+ community, why would anyone still want to watch the World Cup?

“I maintain the World Cup is mine - it doesn’t belong to FIFA, it doesn’t belong to Qatar, it belongs to the fans,” Coleman said. He argues that at this stage of the game, boycotting is not going to make the slightest bit of difference.

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Sport is not what any of the powers that be are concerned with; what they appear to be driven by is the business coming to the area and the aforementioned idea that, because they have hosted a World Cup, they now have the West’s protection in any local conflicts.

As I worked my way through the documentary, I became increasingly downhearted with the fact I have long enjoyed what is supposed to be an inclusive sport that brings people together, when in fact the power structures of the sport are built primarily on self-indulgence and self-aggrandising. But I’ll take Miles’ advice and try to make the tournament my own. Watch for the enjoyment of football whilst hoping to continue informing people of the magnitude of issues that pervade the stadiums’ newly constructed walls.

I’ll also live in the hopeful expectation that one day, we may see football without corruption and that FIFA’s “cosy relationship with dictators, authoritarian regimes who want to use football and sport to launder their own reputations” as Coleman has referred to it, will end.

Most critically, we must hope that in the future a country can win the right to host the World Cup on merit, rather than the preferred methods of football’s mafia-style administration.

FIFA Uncovered is available to watch on Netflix.

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