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Oh, You Thought FIFA Was Corrupt? Meet Equatorial Guinea

This story was updated. With officials from FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, under investigation by the FBI amid allegations they were bribed to vote in favor of Russia and Qatar as World Cup hosts in 2018 and 2022, respectively, and now Equatorial Guinea, one of the world’s most corrupt countries, named host of the Africa ...

ABDELHAK SENNA/AFP
ABDELHAK SENNA/AFP

This story was updated.

With officials from FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, under investigation by the FBI amid allegations they were bribed to vote in favor of Russia and Qatar as World Cup hosts in 2018 and 2022, respectively, and now Equatorial Guinea, one of the world’s most corrupt countries, named host of the Africa Cup of Nations for the second time in a row, it seems like maybe there’s just no way around nepotism in international soccer tournaments.

Although Morocco had been slated to host the 2015 championship, it lost hosting rights after asking to postpone the tournament over fears of spreading the Ebola virus.

So that’s when Equatorial Guinea stepped in. Because it co-hosted the 2012 tournament with neighboring Gabon, much was already in place to enable the 16-team tournament, which starts on Jan. 17 and runs through Feb. 8, to start.

But Equatorial Guinea has more pressing issues it should focus on. Like that the United Nations says less than half the population has access to clean drinking water and at least ten percent of children die before the age of five. Not to mention that corruption watchdog Transparency International ranks it in the top ten percent of most corrupt countries in the world, at 163 out of 177. President Teodoro Obiang has held power for 35 years since replacing his uncle, who was also notoriously corrupt, after a coup.

But the family history of dishonesty doesn’t stop there.  

Equatorial Guinea is one of the world’s most oil-rich countries, but Obiang refuses to tell anyone how much revenue the industry generates. That’s probably because Obiang would very much like to hide just how much of that money he is personally pocketing. His youngest son, Gabriel, runs the Oil Ministry and the first lady’s brother is the head of the state oil company.

Just last month, another Obiang son, Teodorín, who serves as the country’s second vice president, had to sell $30 million worth of assets that included a mansion in Malibu, Calif. and a collection of Michael Jackson memorabilia to settle a corruption case brought by U.S. prosecutors. According to Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell, Teodorín spent years "raking in millions in bribes and kickbacks…[then] embarked on a corruption-fueled spending spree in the U.S."

But none of that stopped the Confederation of African Football from picking the tiny African nation as tournament host and giving Obiang a very public thank you. "CAF wishes to express its sincere thanks to the Equatorial Guinean people, its government and particularly President Obiang," the body stated on Friday. 

Ironically, Equatorial Guinea wasn’t even initially invited to participate in the tournament. Its team was disqualified after fielding an ineligible player born in Cameroon during a match in May. After offering to host, the country was awarded the opportunity to compete again. 

Apparently the national soccer team, just like its government, doesn’t have any problem cheating to win.

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