Ep. 86: Ken Bensinger - "Red Card", FIFA, and the Ugly Side of the Beautiful Game


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We have released this episode right in the middle of the 2018 World Cup in Russia. You might love football (and you may call it “soccer”). You might revel in Lionel Messi’s unbelievable skills or Cristiano Ronaldo’s athleticism (even though both are now gone from the tournament). Perhaps you play the game. Perhaps your children do. Maybe you support your local club side, one of the big European teams, or both. Your national team’s performance might have a lot of meaning for you.

Conversely, you might not care about the game at all. You might be appalled by the amount of money in it, or the fact that people spend far too much time obsessing over it. You might be all of the above.

Regardless, what is often called “the people’s game,” or “the beautiful game,” has a very dark side. It is a side that you should know about because it affects our world. That side is corruption, which we talk about in this episode.

My guest is Ken Bensinger. Ken is an award-winning investigative journalist. He has worked at the Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times and now at BuzzFeed News. He was a Pullizer Prize finalist. He has recently written Red Card: FIFA and the Fall of the Most Powerful Men in Sports.

Red Card is an enthralling account if the FBI’s investigation into FIFA, football’s global governing body, arguably the most powerful institution in all of sports. The book shows the greed, arrogance and self-interest of those who ran the sport for decades, and how a determined investigation brought this small cabal to justice. It is also a book that asks questions about the role of big money and politics in sport, including geopolitics.

We get into that and more, including:

  • How the book came about;
  • How FIFA’s structure facilitates corruption, including why that structure has similarities with organised crime syndicates;
  • How the money flowed and how the corruption worked – and very plausibly, how it still might be working today;
  • How the USA got involved in investigating FIFA;
  • Whether or not FIFA is cleaner now;
  • Things Ken is watching out for in Russia 2018;
  • Parallels to the Russia/Trump investigation;
  • Similarities to Russia’s athletics doping scandal;
  • Risks to the sport;
  • Whether or not it is “ok” to watch the World Cup;
  • Plans for a movie;
  • Much more!

Show notes:

Ken on Twitter

Red Card: FIFA and the Fall of The Most Powerful Men in Sports – UK edition, US edition here

The 2015 FIFA corruption case

The 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids

Christopher Steele and the Trump Dossier

Sepp Blatter

Chuck Blazer

Jack Warner

Jeffrey Webb

Gianni Infantino

Brazil’s Odebrecht corruption scandal

The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act

The Icarus Documentary about Russia’s systemic doping in sport

The Russian athletics doping scandal

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