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Ken Bensinger Shows FIFA a Red: The 2018 FIFA World Cup is already in full swing. Group play matches began in earnest on Thursday for what is often proclaimed to be the biggest sporting event in the world. But beneath the glamour of the sporting spectacle lies a tangled, insidious web of corruption, corruption that has soaked itself so deep into the very fabric of world soccer that it's unclear if FIFA can ever truly be fixed.
BuzzFeed's Ken Bensinger's new book Red Card: How the U.S. Blew the Whistle on the World's Biggest Sports Scandal, attempts to unravel the seemingly endless knots of graft and cheating that exist throughout the alphabet soup of acronymic organizations that run the game on all levels. One would be forgiven, even if they follow soccer assiduously, with not being familiar with names like CONCACAF, CONMEBOL, CFU, and so on—it's a difficult move that Bensinger has to make here. He has to forge a cogent narrative around what is intentionally a labyrinthine organization. After all, one of FIFA's most notable attributes for maintaining this corruption is making it difficult for those outside the halls of power to understand how, exactly, the whole damn thing works.
But Bensinger overcomes this hurdle with clean narrative prose and a smart structure. By following the investigation led by a team of Federal Bureau of Investigation and Internal Revenue Service agents, along with New York district attorneys, he creates a pleasing alchemy of driving plot complemented by in-depth explanations of how money exchanges hands for advertising deals, never-completed developmental projects, and bribes—for just about everything FIFA-related. It's like reading a true crime book about the mafia, which makes sense, considering the prosecutors in the FIFA case often compared the organization to La Cosa Nostra.
Perhaps the biggest hurdle is making it clear why people should care about a few soccer officials getting rich on FIFA dollars. But the executives who lined their pockets with corrupt cash didn't just take from the big money advertising agencies or the Qatari natural gas barons, but, as Bensinger outlines, used money that should have gone to developing the game in small countries like Curacao, Trinidad, or Bolivia—buying cleats and balls for kids, building new fields, etc.—and used it for personal gain. The corruption has not stopped since the investigation, but Red Card illustrates why it's important that we don't forget why it must not be shoved under the carpet.