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Home   /   Documentary review: The Men Who Sold the World Cup

Discovery Plus’s exclusive documentary showed investigative journalism at its very best as FIFA, and Sepp Blatter’s reign of corruption was exposed to its very core.

From the very offset of this ‘sports documentary’, you get the feel that you’re indulged in some sort of crime drama series as we meet both the detectives and the villains. In this case the detectives are a pair of investigative journalists both working for The Sunday Times who receive a tip off from a confidential source regarding leaked emails exposing bribes centring around Qatar’s 2022 World Cup bid.

The documentary does not hold back on its views on FIFA with quotes, describing the organisation as a ‘mafia style crime syndicate’ in which football was being used as bargaining chip for huge international deals.

Throughout the documentary we get introduced into more people who have been identified as guilty within the deep-rooted controversy, but significantly we hear more from the people exposing them then we do themselves. Sepp Blatter is undoubtedly the most historic figure in the organisation, all be it for the wrong reasons, but he is the only person from FIFA’s side of the fence we hear from.

In the documentaries two episodes the evidence against the organisation is stacked up constantly, but we hear little from the accused themselves, for example Qatar’s Mohammed Bin Haman, who was known to the Qatari royal family as ‘The Slave’ due to his pivotal role in the bribing of other nations for them to favour Qatar as a vote. The Qatar royal family saw hosting the tournament as a political victory over both Arabic neighbours UAE and Saudi Arabia, increasing their prestige within the Middle East to the rest of the world.

The episodes clearly painted FIFA as the ‘bad guys’, seen when the organisations complex is likened to that of a villains lair in a James Bond film with Sepp Blatter stroking a white Persian cat. As well as singling out the corruption scandals within FIFA itself, the documentary criticises Qatar on the deeply complex issue of human rights within the country.

Footage shows a mock grave site outside one of the newly built stadiums for the tournament with a banner condemning the countries attitude to workers’ rights, with many losing their lives whilst working because of poor conditions and lack of health and safety standards, specifically mentioning details of how migrant workers are often dictated by employers as to where they work and when, if at all, they can leave.

As a saying goes “every superhero needs a villain” and vice versa. In this instance, with Qatar being the villain, both England and the USA are the superheroes. After all it was The Sunday Times and the FBI who were at the forefront of bringing those accused at FIFA to justice so it’s no surprise the series depicts them in this way.

Interviewees include that of USA soccer icon Landon Donovan, former national team manager Jurgen Klinsmann and the chairman of USA’s failed 2022 bid Sunil Galati, who defended the US’s innocence in any bribery trying to sway FIFA to accept their bid. 

The latter recalls how he knew of FIFA’s corruption and foul play when battling against Qatar for 2022’s tournament saying he “didn’t want to play dirty” in attempting to win any World Cup bid.

We learn that a former British Ambassador to Russia had also been assigned by M16 to help spy on Russia’s world cup bid for 2018 amid allegations that they too were directly involved in bribes with Qatar in which reported trade-offs and connections were made over a potential oil deal which included the idea of vote swaps in favour of each other.

The series also portrayed how politics was a crucial part of Qatar’s winning bid as former disgraced UEFA president Michel Platini’s role within the organisation was exposed. Platini was accused of having his original vote for USA’s bid swayed by then French president Nicolas Sarkozy, who had a made a deal with Qatar to help fund his beloved Paris Saint-Germain, with cash by Qatar Airways, who brought stakes in French aviation company Airbus.

After watching The Men Who Sold the World Cup, it’s clear to say it’s not your typical ‘fly on the wall’ All or Nothing documentary but rather an insightful deep dive into the world of corruption within the heart of footballs top organisation which provides a fresh perspective into a relatively old and already heavily featured topic.

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