For those interested in in-depth soccer reporting, the new Discovery+ soccer documentary may be the new mini-series for you. ‘The Men Who Sold The World Cup’ features exclusive interviews with Sunil Gulati, Jurgen Klinsmann, Landon Donovan, and Sepp Blatter, among many others.
Discovery networks owns a reputation for airing outstanding documentaries. Now, Discovery’s streaming platform, Discovery+, takes the leap into soccer documentaries. The two-part series, The Men Who Sold the World Cup, debuts Sunday, October 17 in the United States and Thursday, October 21 globally.
The series looks at one the biggest corruption scandals to date in global sports history. The awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar respectively rocked the sports world. Moreover, the series analyzed the ensuing drama that saw the fall of top officials in the sport throughout the world.
Daniel DiMauro and Morgan Pehme direct the mini-series. The directors’ credits include Get Me Roger Stone and The Swamp.
The series is well worth a watch. For one, DiMauro and Pehme dive into a retrospective narrative of the events around the FIFA scandal. Also, there is discussion of the actual investigation from both journalists and law enforcement officials. Moreover, the documentary series features several colorful stories and anecdotes around the main characters in FIFA.
Discovery+ Soccer Documentary broken down
The documentary series itself is not overly long with just two episodes. However, the series moves quickly. Of course, this has to happen with the wealth of crucial information to be covered.
The following breakdown of the Discovery+ soccer documentary is just a brief summary. Again, Discovery+ airs the documentary on October 17 in the U.S. Moreover, international audiences can watch on October 21.
Before the title sequence to the first episode, journalist Heidi Blake encapsulates the dilemma.
“What the Qataris and Russians were doing was corruption on an industrial scale. None of the other nations could compete”
This accurately sets the stage for the next two hours of outstanding documentary filmmaking to create a vivid story regarding true crime unfolding.
The first episode features Sunday Times investigators Heidi Blake and Jonathan Calvert. The pair co-authored The Ugly Game. This book depicts the exposure of the ugly corruption behind Qatar’s bid to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup. The episode follows their investigation that revealed the extent of corruption at the heart of FIFA.
FIFA’s operations are often cloak-and-dagger. Blake and Calvert provide a feel for how difficult getting information and protecting sources is with FIFA. The program moves quickly, starting with giving the background to João Havelange. Audiences quickly see the outright corruption from top to bottom. In fact, Blake and Calvert discuss Havelange’s stewardship of FIFA and how the Brazilian President of FIFA secured his long-term stewardship. Essentially, he reached his position by cultivating African nations. The corruption becomes increasingly apparent over time.
Former FIFA media director Guido Tognoni delivers one of the key takeaways from the first episode.
“Havelange and Blatter cultivated the culture (of corruption) at FIFA,”
To counter, Sepp Blatter speaks to provide his rendition of various events.
Mohamed bin Hammam
However, the more compelling stories relate to Qatar’s Mohamed bin Hammam. Bin Hammam rose to become President of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), the equivalent to UEFA or CONCACAF.
Blake and Calvert uncovered the significant portion of London real estate owned by Qataris. The Emir worked with bin Hammam to turn Qatar into a global showcase through sports and entertainment. No matter the cost, financially or otherwise, there was an unabashed determination to win the World Cup hosting rights.
READ MORE: The rise and fall of Mohammed bin Hammam
Later, the first episode turns to journalists uncovering large-scale corruption in world soccer. Also, Americans Sunil Gulati and Landon Donovan speak about the failed U.S. attempts to host the 2022 World Cup. Interviews with Phaedra Almajid bring the narrative even more to life.
For those unaware, Almajid previously handled public relations for the Qatar 2022 bid. Then, she turned to a whistleblower calling out the apparent corruption. Key parts of the narrative are brought to life through the interviews with Almajid.
In discussing the Russian 2018 bid, the documentary leans heavily on interviews with Christopher Steele. Many Americans know Steele as the author of the controversial Steele Dossier, which played a role in the 2016 Presidential Election.
In the documentary, we learn of Steele’s involvement with the England bid to host the 2018 World Cup. He gathered intelligence of both Russian corruption and a vote-swap with Qatar. This involved a lucrative oil deal between the two nations. Also, discussion permeates on the pressure the Sarkozy government in France put on Michel Platini, the UEFA President at the time. They pressured Platini to switch his support from the USA to Qatar. Not only did Platini flip his vote, but he also brought three others with him.
The sway ensured victory for Qatar.
Later, the episode delves into bin Hammam’s failed bid to wrest the Presidency of FIFA away from Blatter. Bin Hammam played to suspicious circumstances in his withdrawal from the race. Finally, it concludes with the backlash and fallout from The Sunday Times breaking the story on alleged corruption surrounding 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids in 2014.
The second episode features extensive interviews with FBI and IRS investigators. Practically, these services worked to expose criminal behavior in FIFA. Interestingly, FIFA’s structure and culture of personal loyalty among top individuals largely resembled the mob.
Unbeknownst to the journalists working at The Sunday Times, the FBI and IRS in the United States simultaneously worked to expose the corruption in FIFA. Their road to Blatter traveled through Chuck Blazer, the colorful American FIFA Executive Committee member.
Audiences then begin to see the story of the commercial empire Blazer built within the USSF and CONCACAF. The Discovery+ soccer documentary features talks with those who knew Blazer best, including Sunil Gulati and journalist Sam Borden.
Blazer’s opulent lifestyle and failure to pay taxes for over a decade attracted the attention of the IRS. Consequently, this aided the broader FBI investigation into corruption in soccer.
More on Sepp Blatter
Episode two covers marketing agencies and media rights deals extensively. Here, much of the opportunity for corruption took place. Sepp Blatter even admits to the failure of those who received grants from FIFA to use the money for the express purpose it was intended. Practically, he admits the money was largely put in people’s pockets.
Even then, Blatter denies any wrongdoing..
Next, audiences see the arrests of significant members of FIFA in Zurich and the fall of Sepp Blatter’s reign. The documentary ponders Sepp Blatter’s role.
Did he know? Was he corrupt himself? Was he desperate to keep hold of power resorting to turning a blind eye to the happenings under his leadership?
Blatter ponders these questions during an interview. Additionally, he wonders if his ban from the sport as a whole set by Gianni Infantino’s FIFA was fair.
This Discovery+ soccer documentary caters to fans of white collar crime stories. Also, it’s a must-watch for those interested in the governance of sports.
Essentially, it is two hours of non-stop information piecing together one of sports’ biggest and most controversial stories in recent memory.
Generally, Discovery+ broadcasts channels and content that revolves around entertainment or education, not sport. For example, TLC, Animal Planet, HGTV and Food Network are a few of the channels on the streaming service. At this time, it does not seem important for someone dedicated to only sports.
However, this Discovery+ soccer documentary shows ambition for the platform. In fact, it shows that, with content like this, sports could be on the horizon.
Furthermore, Discovery+ held the rights to broadcast the 2020 Olympics in the United Kingdom. With Discovery+ adding their name to the hat for some soccer rights around the world, there is always potential.
Discovery+ plans start at $4.99 per month. But, there is a seven-day free trial period to get to know the service.
Author: Kartik Krishnaiyer