FIFA Arrests: Is Anyone Really Surprised?

A joint column by Evan Sally and Angela Nicholas.


FIFA President Sepp Blatter/Photo: AFP

FIFA President Sepp Blatter/Photo: AFP

News broke late last night that several FIFA officials had been arrested on charges of corruption and bribery. The United States Department of Justice, working in tandem with Swiss authorities, arrested 14 high ranking officials in total, including 5 corporate executives that work for sports marketing companies that are partnered with FIFA. The investigation was mainly focused on the corruption that surrounded the selection of Russia and Qatar for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups respectively. The charges are wide-ranging: from the standard asking for cash to give favorable treatment in return, to the more outlandish. My personal favorite was the FIFA official who, in return for voting for England to get the World Cup in 2018, asked for a knighthood and for England’s national soccer tournament, the FA Cup, to be renamed after him.

 These people weren’t exactly subtle. US Attorney General Loretta Lynch in her press conference this morning said their investigation found that FIFA officials had accepted over $110 million in bribes and other corrupt dealings having to do with the United States getting the 2016 Copa America tournament as well. The language she used in her press conference was also striking to me. She referred to FIFA in a way you would normally hear the Mafia spoken of, calling them a “criminal conspiracy” with “corruption throughout the organization”. Even the law that the Justice Department is using to charge them, the RICO Act, was originally created years ago with the intent of bringing down organized crime. Today’s charges just bring clarity to something soccer fans knew for a long time, their favorite sports was being run by what was essentially an organized crime syndicate.

Typically, the revelation of a scandal of this magnitude would be a black eye for the sport, a shocking and sad day for fans everywhere. Not for soccer fans. Today is a happy day. The culture of corruption stemming from FIFA president Sepp Blatter had become so pervasive that almost everyone knew it was happening and tolerated it. As a result, this news is being welcomed with cheers and applause from soccer fans the world over. As much as the fans love their sport, it had become tiring to have to deal with Blatter and his organization’s blatant corruption. It forced soccer fans everywhere to make a choice: either boycott FIFA events and hit them where it hurt, in their wallet, or begrudgingly accept what FIFA does and watch their games and buy their products. And because soccer fans love the sport, of course they are going to watch, as much at it might pain them to support Blatter in any way. These charges levied against FIFA mark a turning point in that relationship. Finally, the obvious corruption is being dealt with, and not dealt with by just anyone, but with the full might of the American Justice Department. While Blatter was not charged today, Ms. Lynch did make sure to point out that this is just the beginning of their investigation and more arrests will be upcoming. I believe the clock is ticking for the FIFA President. Finally, soccer fans will be able to watch the game they love with a clear conscience, and have faith that the game is in clean, ethical hands.


– Evan Sally, @Evan_Sally


Sepp Blatter

FIFA President Sepp Blatter announcing Qatar as the winner of the bid to host World Cup 2022. Photo: Walter Bieri/AP

Early yesterday morning, Swiss authorities arrested 7 top FIFA officials at a hotel in Zurich on charges of bribery, money laundering and corruption, focusing primarily on the selection of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup host countries. The United States Department of Justice also indicted 14 high-ranking FIFA officials today, directly resulting from a four year F.B.I. investigation into FIFA and its’ way of business. The federal indictment lists 47 counts, including charges of fraud, money laundering, and bribery. As Evan mentioned, US Attorney General Loretta Lynch was adamant that this is only the beginning of their case against FIFA. US DoJ claimed FIFA officials took more than 150 million dollars in bribes when awarding broadcast rights to the World Cup. While longtime FIFA President Sepp Blatter was not amongst those charged today, his fate is to be determined.
FIFA, the international governing body of soccer, runs like a Mafia. It is a well run organization comprised of wealthy individuals who throw around their money to support their own interests. They will pay people millions of dollars to get what they want, then pay them some more to keep quiet about it. Most notably in the takedown of FIFA is the controversy surrounding the 2018 and 2022 World Cup selections.

Russia was selected by FIFA to host the 2018 World Cup, while Qatar won the 2022 bid to host the World Cup. For those unfamiliar with the selection process, the FIFA Executive Committee votes for which country they want to host the tournament. Each executive has one vote. It’s a multi-round process, where the team with the least amount of votes is eliminated. Round by round, one by one, they narrow it down until a winner is chosen.

When selecting a host country for the biggest single-event sporting competition in the world, many things need to be taken into account, such as stadiums, facilities, transport, political unrest, etc. One of the strongest bidding countries for the 2018 WC was none other than the place where the game itself originated: England. They have plenty of stadiums. You know, that Barclays Premier League and all. And let’s not forget Wembley. They have plenty of quality facilities, efficient and clean public transport, and economic, political and social stability. It is a country used to tourism and properly prepared for it. England’s bid for the 2018 WC was backed by David Cameron, David Beckham, and Prince William. So, it was quite the surprise that Russia won 13 out of the 22 votes (2 out of the 24 executives were suspended for selling votes) to win the majority, and thus, become the hosts of the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Russia is lacking in every single one of the criteria required to host such an event, which is why so many questions were raised on how they won the bid. The answer is simple: kickbacks. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.

Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke on the controversy surrounding Russia’s World Cup bid today, accusing the United States of meddling in FIFA affairs. He called it “odd” that the US would be so interested in something that did not involve this country, and did not take place there. He also hinted at it being a direct attempt to strip the 2018 WC from Russia. Okay then. US Attorney General Loretta Lynch disclosed in her press conference that many FIFA financial transactions took place here, through American banks, so I’d say that makes it the US DoJ’s business.

It’s the same case in regards to bribery with the 2022 WC selection of Qatar, a tiny country with absolutely no history in the game of soccer. Oh, and their summers regularly hit 120˚F, which might be a bit of an issue when on average, soccer playes run 7 miles in a 90 minute game. (FIFA has since approved moving the 2022 World Cup to wintertime to avoid the fierce summer temperatures. Isn’t it so typical of FIFA to be so understanding and flexible?!?!) So, what does Qatar have to offer? A lot of money. And when I say a lot of money, I mean an absolutely absurd amount of money. Phaedra Al-Majid, a media consultant who worked on the Qatari bidding team, has publicly come forward about the bribes. She alleges that she witnessed members of the Qatari bidding team offering 1.5 million dollars per vote to FIFA executives, resulting in 3 bribed votes for the Qatar bid. In reality, Qatar really didn’t stand a chance. But Al-Majid knew Qatar would win. She saw it go down firsthand. So, she made it public. Since coming forward with these allegations, she was fired, given three days to leave the country, her location revealed by FIFA, threatened with a million dollar fine for breaking a confidentiality clause, coerced into legally retracting her statements, and received death threats to her and her family. These threats still are ongoing; Al-Majid was greeted at her door by 3 FBI agents who came to take her into protection. Also close to all of this controversy was Mohamed Bin Hamman, a Qatari billionaire who helped get Sepp Blatter elected in 1998 and reelected in 2002. He was closely affiliated to Blatter, assisting the FIFA President with all of his travels by arranging flights on his personal private planes, etc. I’m sure you are all surprised that Blatter’s Executive Committee chose Bin Hamman’s home country to host a World Cup.


Why did it take so long?
FIFA’s corrupt and been corrupt, and we’ve all known it. But, FIFA is also huge and worth millions and millions of dollars. Sepp Blatter is no dummy. He’s personable, he’s charming, and he’s humorous. And, most importantly, he’s a businessman. FIFA has done a good job at covering their bases. They’re remained pretty impenetrable, which is pretty easy to do when you can hire the best lawyers and accountants to find and exploit legal loopholes. However, given the blatant disregard for rules and fair play, FIFA has been all but quiet. It is a known fact that FIFA is an organization that for decades has been doing pretty much whatever it wants without fear of repercussion. They throw their weight and money around. It was only a matter of time before tangible evidence was obtained and cases brought against them.

For a “nonprofit organization,” FIFA handed out more than 261 million dollars in World Cup bonuses. That’s right: FIFA is technically a nonprofit organization, although it’s a billion dollar company.

Some more fun facts about FIFA:
– It does not have to disclose how much it pays executives, or any employee
– It does not have to disclose any of the minutes of its’ meetings
– It does not have to report or account for itself, to any higher authority

Why has no one said anything?
There are 209 associations affiliated with FIFA, and they all get the same amount of money. That means the teeniest, tiniest country gets the same amount of money as Germany does from FIFA. The small, developing countries rely on this money from FIFA. Do they really care about FIFA scandals? No. They don’t. For their country, that money is huge. It goes a long way. FIFA helps developing countries through the game of soccer, by running programs, building facilities, etc. When someone like Sepp Blatter visits these developing nations, he’s a hero to them. Blatter has leverage over these countries. If you like the work we’re doing here and want it to continue, you’ll vote for me. It’s shameful that FIFA can so guiltlessly and shamelessly exploit these countries in need, but I don’t think it really surprises anyone. This is just how business is done at FIFA.

What now?
Every soccer player and soccer fan took a sigh of relief when news of the FIFA arrests broke. There’s a long road ahead, as Sepp Blatter is still untouched, but it’s a giant first step. Of course, FIFA is going to abandon everyone involved and make it look like these individuals were acting autonomously. They will create as much separation between this and themselves as possible. Things get more interesting when you consider the 2015 FIFA Presidential Election is tomorrow, Friday, May 29th. Do we see Sepp Blatter get re-elected? Does FIFA’s leadership change hands? We’ll see. I do think Blatter is too smart of a businessman to directly take money from anyone, but it will be interesting to see just how close he got to the scandal. I find it hard to believe that any good businessman has NO idea what’s going on underneath him, in his business’ name. If they can directly implement him in any of this mess, I’ll grab a bag of popcorn and watch FIFA burn. They deserve it.

Soccer deserves more from FIFA. You know, the charity.

– Angela Nicholas, @angelanicole_x


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