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Media scrutiny key to FIFA reform, argues leading economist

By Tom McGowan, CNN
updated 12:24 PM EDT, Tue June 10, 2014
FIFA has been plagued by a series of problems and controversies since Qatar was awarded the right to stage the 2022 World Cup. FIFA has been plagued by a series of problems and controversies since Qatar was awarded the right to stage the 2022 World Cup.
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  • Media branded "hateful" by African football's rulemakers following corruption allegations
  • FIFA has faced allegations of wrongdoing of the awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar
  • FIFA president Sepp Blatter calls for "unity" following investigation by The Sunday Times
  • Leading economist Jim O'Neill says media holds football's powerbrokers to account

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(CNN) -- It has been branded "hateful and deliberately demeaning," but the media is key to changing the way football works, says one leading economist.

The game's global governing body FIFA has faced a slew of corruption allegations over the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, most recently claims that bribes were paid to Caribbean, Asian and African officials in order to secure Qatar the right to host the latter tournament.

But former Goldman Sachs Asset Management chairman Jim O'Neill insists that the pressure applied by the media towards football organizations helps to promote transparency and good governance.

"It's very legitimate, the questions being asked, more focus on it would be healthy," said O'Neill. "At the end of the day it is something that connects hundreds of millions, if not billions of people around the world, they deserve a better deal."

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O'Neill argues that the media is the only body holding FIFA accountable for its actions.

"It forces them to take more responsibility," he added. "I think the media here is a highly legitimate form of enforcing it."

The investigative work done by British newspaper the Sunday Times in recent weeks has prompted a FIFA backlash from key figures within the organization as well as president Sepp Blatter, criticizing the media coverage Monday.

The Confederation of African Football (CAF) launched a stinging response to allegations of wrongdoing following its general assembly, which was held in Sao Paulo, Brazil ahead of the 2014 World Cup, which gets under way in the city on Thursday.

CAF passed a resolution attacking "the repeated, deliberately hateful, defamatory and degrading attacks by some media, notably British, on the image and the integrity of the Confederation of African Football, its president (Issa Hayatou), its members, its member associations and the entire African continent."

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It went onto claim African football officials were being used as a "scapegoats" and thanked Blatter for his "personal commitment to the fight against racism."

Blatter was in similarly defiant mood at an Asian Football Confederation (AFC) meeting -- also in Sao Paulo -- despite many of FIFA's corporate partners, such as electronics giant Sony, calling for an investigation into corruption allegations.

"We have seen what the British press has published," said Blatter, who has been FIFA president since 1998.

"I don't know what the reasoning is behind this but we must maintain unity."

Referring to the recent storm around FIFA as "Qatar-gate," Blatter warned that his critics wanted "to destroy, not the game, but they want to destroy the institution."

The eyes of the world are on Brazil ahead of it hosting the World Cup for the second time in its history and the first time since 1950.

A string of protests and demonstrations over the reported $11 billion spent on the tournament have dominated the build up to this World Cup.

A strike by subway workers in Sao Paulo on Monday caused chaos in the city which will host Brazil's first match against Croatia.

Hosting football's biggest tournament is often billed as an opportunity to regenerate a country by reinvesting the money generated into domestic projects.

But O'Neill, who is famous for coining the term "BRIC" to describe the rapidly-growing economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China in 2001, questions whether the tournament will benefit Brazil.

"There's not a huge amount of evidence that hosting a World Cup, particularly once it starts, benefits a country," explained O'Neill, who is honorary professor of economics at the University of Manchester.

"In principle, the build-up, with the infrastructure spending, has helped some countries, but the effects are very hard to see. If anything, there is a bit more evidence that the opposite happens, that countries get a bit carried away and they spend more than they can really afford.

"Once the party is over, it fizzles out. If I was Brazilian, particularly given the slowdown they've had in the past couple of years, I wouldn't wanted to be resting my hopes for the future on hosting the World Cup."

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