The fall guy

In the confidential “Salt Bae Incident Report”, Fifa blamed an employee, Ersan Gökay, for what they described as a “harmful scandal”. Gökay became ill and claims his dismissal highlights a toxic culture at FIFA.

By Sam Kunti

It was during the jubilation and revelry for Lionel Messi and Argentina that Ersan Gökay, a Fifa senior event controller at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, suddenly found himself in – what he describes – an impossible situation. Salt Bae, the celebrity chef and personal invitee of Fifa president Gianni Infantino, demanded unprecedented VVIP access. He wanted Gökay to escort him to the player’s tunnel at Lusail Stadium. Salt Bae – whose real name is Nusret Gökçe – said he only wanted to congratulate the world champions. Minutes later, approximately 1.5 billion TV viewers could watch Salt Bae gatecrashing the Argentinian celebration.

It was a watershed moment in Gökay’s career at Fifa, where he arrived in 2017 to work in the finance department under chief financial officer Thomas Peyer. Of German-Turkish origin with a degree in business administration from the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena and with previous work experience at consultancy BDO and Deutsche Bahn, Gökay, like many Fifa employees, came to Fifa with a healthy degree of idealism. After all, Zurich is the game’s apex body. He loved the role and the international exposure. Gökay says: “It was always my dream as a small child to work at the top of world football.”  

Ersan Gökay was the finance project lead for the 2023 Women’s World Cup. He juggled revenue and expenditure as the budgets of Fifa and the local organising committee were consolidated. Gökay wanted to contribute to delivering an outstanding tournament in Australia and New Zealand. ...

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