The 2026 FIFA World Cup vote already reflects the significant steps FIFA has taken to reduce corruption. Will it now follow the International Olympic Committee example and take the next step?
Yesterday FIFA awarded the 2026 event to the “United Bid” of Canada, the United States, and Mexico. This is already a remarkable event for the global anti-corruption movement, for several reasons. It could become more remarkable yet.
First, FIFA awarded co-hosting rights to the country that has led the multijurisdictional criminal prosecution of corruption at FIFA. Yes, you read that correctly, and it’s beyond ironic. In 2015, the U.S. Department of Justice shocked the world by handing down multiple criminal indictments against FIFA officials, and numerous countries have joined in the prosecution. How could an organization that may well live in near-constant fear of criminal indictment award its signature event to the country issuing the indictments?
That brings us to the second major development reflected in yesterday’s vote. As a direct result of the enforcement action, FIFA reformed its voting procedures. Power was distributed, and voting was made public. No longer did the elite (and tainted) FIFA Executive Committee vote exclusively on the bid; now, each of FIFA’s 211 member nations casts a vote. So too did FIFA publish a technical report emphasizing each candidate’s objective qualifications that was summarized just minutes before the final vote, encouraging voting on the merits rather than on backroom dealings. Junket visits to candidate countries, and other forms of gift giving, were prohibited. And the votes became public; you can see the results here (the United Bid defeated Morocco 134-65, with some very interesting votes cast).
What’s the next step for reducing corruption in sports? The IOC has already shown us. In 2016 it amended its model host-city contract to include provisions obligating the host-city to adopt corruption and human rights compliance (see page 16 here). The IOC then awarded its next bid — which concerned the 2024 Summer Olympics — to a country demonstrably committed to anti-corruption and human rights compliance. That bid went to Paris, just as France was adopting its landmark anti-corruption law, Sapin II, and its human rights requirement, the Duty of Vigilance Law. France will thus set the precedent for interpreting these new contractual provisions, and for defining what megasport corruption and human rights compliance mean in practice.
The Olympics Compliance Task Force, in collaboration with Compliance 2024 (an initiative of Le Cercle de la Compliance), is now actively engaged in researching law and gathering best practices to support France’s effort. Ultimately, the Paris 2024 Olympics are set to leave a Governance Legacy: laws, procedures, and cultural norms, promoting transparency, accountability, and human rights, that have application beyond sport, and that will remain after the games are gone.
Could FIFA do the same? Could it leave a governance legacy in the United Bid countries? It certainly could: by now requiring Mexico, Canada, and the U.S. to adopt anti-corruption and human rights compliance in preparing for the 2026 World Cup. Such a requirement could spread an ethic of compliance across the continent, and beyond. It could set a precedent for future FIFA World Cup hosts to follow. It could promote an ethic of fair play, transparency, and of global integration through honest competition. This, after all, is largely why modern mega sports were originally created.
So here’s a plea to FIFA: continue down this path. Build upon the important developments reflected in yesterday’s vote, and take the next step. You’ve already made strides in curbing corruption within your organization. Now help to curb corruption in the host countries.
Andy Spalding, pictured above, chairs the Olympic Compliance Task Force. He is Professor at the University of Richmond School of Law (Virginia, USA), a Frequent Visiting Instructor at the International Anti-Corruption Academy in Austria, and Senior Editor of the FCPA Blog.