(Soccer) FIFA reserves soar to record US$2.7b

Sports | 6 Mar 2019 1:19 pm

FIFA’s cash reserves soared to a record US$2.74 billion and revenue climbed to US$6.4 billion in the four-year period covering the 2018 World Cup, The Associated Press has learned.

The robust financial results suggest FIFA has weathered the deepest crisis in its history, which erupted in 2015 when a United States-led criminal investigation led to the arrests and later convictions of high-ranking officials on corruption charges. FIFA President Sepp Blatter also was deposed as FIFA president in a financial misconduct case that left the governing body’s reputation in tatters and caused a backlash from sponsors.

After being elected as Blatter’s successor in 2016, Gianni Infantino said that "FIFA was clinically dead as an organization.” Although Infantino’s leadership has come under criticism from within European governing body UEFA, Infantino will be able to show the budget is in a healthy state, and he is due to be re-elected unopposed in June for a four-year term.

The 2015-18 finances obtained by the AP exceed the forecasts presented to the FIFA Congress last June. While FIFA projected cash reserves to increase to US$1.653 billion in the 2018 World Cup cycle, they had grown to US$2.74 billion at the end of 2018, according to people with knowledge of the finances. The people spoke on condition of anonymity because the financial results remain confidential.

FIFA’s reserves at the end of the 2014 World Cup cycle were US$1.523 billion after generating US$5.718 billion after the tournament in Brazil.

Amid of corruption crisis of 2015, FIFA modestly targeted raising US$5 billion by the end of the Russia World Cup, a projection later raised to US$6.1 billion. Those expectations were eclipsed when the four-year cycle ended with revenues of US$6.4 billion, according to the people with knowledge of the financial report, which shows profit of around US$1 billion.

The record revenue was achieved despite FIFA not filling its full slate of sponsors for the 2018 World Cup. Several sponsors did not renew after the 2014 tournament in Brazil.

Sheikh Salman Bin Ibrahim Al-Khalifa, an opponent of Infantino in the 2016 vote, had warned Infantino’s plan to increase payouts to member associations would "bankrupt” FIFA, but that has not transpired.

In the 2011-14 World Cup cycle, FIFA’s accounts showed just over US$1 billion was spent overall on development projects with US$538 million going to the Financial Assistance Programme for national associations and confederations.

In the 2015-18 cycle, investment dedicated to FIFA’s new Forward development program was US$1.079 billion of which US$832 million had been approved and committed to member associations, confederations or regions by the end of last year, according to a financial document seen by the AP. Between May 2016 and December 2018, 941 specific projects were funded in 179 of the 211 member associations at a cost of US$270.3 million. There are a range of handouts: from US$30,769 to train female football administrators in South Africa to US$2.25 million on youth development in Peru.

FIFA proclaims it has far more rigorous system of financial controls designed to guard against further corruption scandals. FIFA rejected 201 of the 1,978 funding applications received in the four-year cycle.

FIFA is also trying to secure backing to expand the Club World Cup and develop a Global Nations League, a mini-World Cup for national teams, to further boost revenue. But Infantino’s hopes of obtaining US$25 billion in guaranteed finances from backers, including Japan’s SoftBank, have stalled over European opposition to the formats and funding.

Even without that additional income, FIFA said in its financial report that the success of the 2018 World Cup has provided "strong financial resources” to enable it to raise Forward funds by US$667 million to US$1.746 billion in the 2019-22 cycle.

Each member association can apply for up to US$6 million over the 2019-22 cycle, while each of the six confederations receives US$48 million. In addition, US$62 million is available for zonal or regional associations if they organize at least five youth and women’s competitions per year.

News of the soaring FIFA reserves comes amid ongoing questions about the lack of parity for World Cup prize money between the men’s and women’s tournaments.

France earned US$38 million from FIFA for winning the men’s World Cup last July but the women’s champion this July will earn US$4 million. That is double the amount collected by the U.S. Soccer Federation in 2015, a rise in line with the overall prize money jumping to US$30 million. The fund for the World Cup in Russia rose 12 percent to US$400 million and that jumps to US$440 million for the 2022 tournament in Qatar.

FIFA has acknowledged concerns of female players about the financial disparities while pointing to funding to grow the women’s game.

"The vast majority of women’s football players across the world are still amateur,” Sarai Bareman, FIFA’s chief women’s football officer, said when the prize money for France was agreed last year. "That’s the most important thing for us. If we want to build the whole ecosystem of the women’s game it has to start there.”

Asked if the reserve figures were disappointing in relation to the World Cup prize money, U.S. coach Jill Ellis said: "For sure, 100 percent. Obviously I don’t know what’s in anyone’s bank statements but you want to make sure there is a fair apportionment of winnings going out. So yeah, absolutely.”

Infantino is costing FIFA less than his predecessor.

Infantino last year earned a salary of US$1.9 million and a bonus of US$550,000, according to one of the people with knowledge of the finances. Infantino earned US$1.61 million in 2017 without a bonus.

Blatter’s basic salary of US$3 million in 2015 was topped up by an US$11 million contractual bonus for the 2010 World Cup and US$12 million for the 2014 edition. His contract included a US$12 million performance bonus he would have earned had he completed a 2015-19 presidential term.-AP

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