Stadium nightmare

Halifax’s pursuit of a new venue is one thing; dealing with an ethically challenged FIFA another.

A lot of people in Halifax want the city to build a new stadium---but at what cost? Should we get one even if it means flirting with potential payola, kickbacks, graft and bribery?

Don't get me wrong; I haven't made up my mind on the stadium issue. There might indeed be a case for a stadium, based on long-term needs for the community, but unfortunately past discussion has been ass-backwards---the Commonwealth Games bid committee, for example, spent $2.3 million in architectural services, mostly to get a stadium designed specifically for the games, and only then bothered to think about what the thing could be used for afterwards. Likewise, in December city council decided to pursue a bid to host the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup and instructed staff to dream up a stadium proposal for the event; we'd figure out what to do with the stadium later, was the idea.

Thankfully, cooler heads in City Hall have gotten control of the issue, and are pursuing a more balanced approach. First, they will find out what city residents want in terms of long-term, day-to-day operations of a stadium---the right mix of recreational programming, high-school sports events, regional track meets and so forth---and design a stadium to fit those long-term business operations. Most importantly, they'll put a price tag on those long-term operations, so we can figure out whether it's worth it or not. Only then will we think about shoehorning in the occasional concert or soccer championship. This is, in short, good governance.

But stadium aside, should we be dealing with FIFA at all? International sports organizations are notorious for their ethical problems. Most famously, the Salt Lake City pursuit of the 2002 winter Olympics included improperly giving IOC members millions of dollars in free Super Bowl tickets, all-expenses-paid ski trips to Utah, plastic surgery and college scholarships and jobs for their families.

The Commonwealth Games Associations, too, have been accused of corruption. In 1999 two Australian officials claimed they were flat out hit up for bribes by CGA reps in return for voting for Australia's bid to host the games. Halifax used its own wink-wink, nudge-nudge implied bribery strategy in pursuit of the 2014 Commonwealth Games---the bid committee spent more than $5 million lobbying CGA officials to vote for Halifax's bid; that included $700,000 in cash grants, $10,000 each to 70 nations' CGA.

And now there's FIFA. In December the BBC aired an explosive documentary accusing three FIFA officials of taking bribes. Earlier this month, an ethics committee ruled that FIFA officials Amos Adumu and Slim Aloulou had in fact been trying to sell their votes, and two other officials were guilty of lesser charges. And do you wonder how the hottest place on earth, Qatar, with tight restrictions on alcohol consumption, won the right to host the men's World Cup in 2022? The Wall Street Journal suggests that deal came thanks to $78 million in bribe money. Does Halifax really want to enter that world?

"Slow down!" say locals who want to host the Women's World Cup---Halifax won't deal with FIFA directly, but rather with the Canadian Soccer Association, which will in turn pursue the bid. These Pollyannas somehow believe that filter will prevent local stadium building from being corrupted.

But even if that unlikely scenario plays out, what about the CSA? At this very moment the Canadian women's soccer team is on strike, refusing to play international games, because the rules for compensating women players are different from how male players are compensated, and because, say women players, their coach is being overruled by CSA officials. As it now stands, for Halifax to pursue the World Cup bid means this city will at the very least support a double standard that penalizes women.

Make no mistake: These questionable procedures corrupt everyone who gets involved with international sporting organizations. If Halifax wants to play ball, we should expect the worst ethical problems to bubble up to the top of our own community, as our own scandalous Commonwealth Games pursuit demonstrates.

A stadium may or may not be a good idea, but let's stay clear of the FIFA morass.

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