Blatter's corroded legacy on South Asian soccer fields

Mon Sep 7, 2015 5:52pm EDT
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By Ross Adkin and Syed Raza Hassan

DHARAN, Nepal/KARACHI, Pakistan (Reuters) - There are no recognizable soccer fields, no players, and just a rusting goalpost at Pakistan's Hawksbay training center, built with a $500,000 FIFA grant on a windswept plot by the Arabian Sea near Karachi, and officially completed two years ago.

In Nepal, goats graze on a rutted playing field near decrepit facilities at the Dharan soccer academy built with FIFA cash in the Himalayan foothills. The sole member of staff, a watchman, says he hasn't been paid for a year.

A Reuters review of soccer development projects in these two South Asian countries shows they are littered with half-built and under-used facilities, despite receiving more than $2 million from the sport's world governing body this year alone.

In recent weeks, Reuters reporters visited seven projects in Pakistan and Nepal that received FIFA money under its ‘Goal’ program - which funds soccer fields for youth academies, known as technical centers, and playing surfaces in stadiums. They found that just one had an active full-time training program. Three had no proper playing fields.

During embattled outgoing President Sepp Blatter's 17-year reign, FIFA has poured money into such projects in some of the poorest corners of the world. Blatter has said the programs aim to make the world's most popular sport accessible to all, but critics contend such grants have helped ensure he retained power with support from the heads of soccer associations in countries not known for their footballing prowess.

Blatter was re-elected president for a fifth time in late May, just days after seven FIFA officials were arrested on bribery-related charges as a result of a wide-ranging U.S. investigation into corruption in FIFA. In early June he said he would step down once a successor has been elected in February.

FIFA says it spends $200 million a year on development programs, partly through its 'Goal' program. It declined to comment about the specific cases of Nepal and Pakistan for this article, but said the majority of its 'Goal' projects around the world were successful.

"Over the past few years, FIFA has put in place stringent financial controls and audit checks to ensure, as far as we can, that the money we provide is spent on the projects we intend and is managed carefully," a FIFA spokesman said. "Only in a small minority of cases do we discover problems that give cause for concern."   Continued...

A general view is seen of the entrance gate at the FIFA Goal Project site in the Hawks Bay area of Karachi, Pakistan, July 15, 2015. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro