After 30 years of alleged corruption, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association has finally been brought to justice. At approximately 6 a.m. local time, Swiss law enforcement officials arrived at one of Zurich’s premiere hotels to arrest FIFA officials meeting in advance of the election of FIFA’s president, scheduled for Friday — an election, that despite what transpired early Wednesday morning, will still likely result in the election of Sepp Blatter (whose very name screams corruption) for a fifth term.
Among the charges are wire fraud, money laundering and racketeering — all the allegations you would expect against a prohibition-era mob and not against the largest sports organization and one of the most powerful international organizations in the world.
A total of 14 members — nine FIFA officials and five corporate executives — will be charged, including former FIFA vice president Jack Warner and CONCACAF (the Confederation of North, Caribbean and Central Association Football) president Jeffrey Webb. The other FIFA officials are Eduardo Li, Eugenio Figueredo, Julio Rocha, Costas Takkas, Rafael Esquivel, José Maria Marin and Nicolás Leoz.
Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the arrests is that it was orchestrated by U.S. officials through Swiss law enforcement. Many of the transfers, sometimes involving U.S. companies, happened on American soil, and the FIFA officials are currently awaiting extradition to New York. The U.S. has not traditionally played a role in policing FIFA, and it is curious that it was the one to finally initiate the long awaited corruption charges. Social media was abound with messages thanking the U.S. for bringing FIFA to justice.
Blatter’s future as FIFA president is also in question, and it will be interesting to see if any of his fellow members have anything damning to say about the man who presided over FIFA’s nearly 30 years of shady dealings.
FIFA officials are accused of taking a possible total of $150 million in bribes since the early ’90s, and six of the defendants have already pled guilty to the charges. The coming weeks will likely be a seminal moment in FIFA history and will likely determine how international sporting events are handled in the future.
For those familiar with FIFA, the allegations of corruption are hardly new. They have seemingly hovered around the organization like flies over a carcass for the last few decades. In fact, the corruption seemed so rampant that it almost appeared that FIFA might be immune altogether from any sort of oversight.
In 2011, it looked as though Blatter might lose his job to Mohammad bin Hammam, who offered himself as a corruption-free alternative to the controversial Blatter. That is, until the Qatari national bin Hammam, chief of the Asian soccer confederation, was himself suspended for — along with recently arrested Jack Warner — offering $40,000 in bribes to Caribbean soccer officials.
Perhaps even more infuriating has been the likely corruption in the decisions to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups in Russia and Qatar, announced on Dec. 10, 2010. The outrage was palpable. The U.S., Japan and England were all deemed to have far superior claims to become the host nation by independent studies, surpassing both Russia and Qatar in revenue, security and infrastructure.
The U.S., England and Japan all were objectively better suited to be host nations. Instead, England was shockingly eliminated in the first round of the 2018 voting with a paltry two votes out of 22. However, that was nothing compared to the almost flagrant corruption revealed with the 2022 voting. After being the brunt of jokes leading up to voting, Qatar received a ridiculous 11 of the delegates’ support.
South Korea and Japan, who split the World Cup just four tournaments ago, received four and three votes apiece. The U.S. also received just three votes. It was not even close. Even before the corruption allegations, Qatar was projected to have the lowest attendance of any World Cup since Colombia was briefly selected in 1986. Financial problems and violence in the nation forced the committee to change the host nation to Mexico four years before the competition was set to start, so a change in hosts is not unprecedented.
Financial and logistical reasoning aside, the biggest problem with the Russian and Qatari bids were their blatant violation of human rights — rights which FIFA so famously heralds and blatantly ignores. In Russia, it is highly likely that because of pressure to cut costs prison labor will be used, labor that is known for its high casualty rate and the ire of international human rights groups. Already Russia’s economy is strained and continues to battle internal allegations over financial losses during the Winter Olympics. In addition, it is also likely that there will be protests in Russia similar to those in Brazil. Russian citizens no longer want to see state funds spent on sporting events.
At least in Russia, there is a small possibility of protest. In Qatar, the monarchy is so firmly in control that any such display would be impossible. Even worse, it is estimated that a horrifyingly unprecedented 4,000 laborers will perish in the Qatari heat. Many are of Nepalese and Indian origin. Some have been sold into virtual slavery. The Nepalese laborers were even denied leave to attend to loved ones after the tragic earthquake in April.
It is hard not to draw a line of direct responsibility between FIFA and those same atrocities. According to one ESPN interview with a former member of the Qatar bid committee, at least two voters were offered around $1.5 million each. It is very probable that each of the 11 voters, or at least a heavy majority, were offered similar bids.
Is what FIFA did really so different from De Beers paying for diamonds unearthed with human lives? Is it any different from the empowerment of dictators with foreign weapons? By taking these bribes, FIFA officials have sanctioned death and taken a direct role in any of the atrocities that all but knowingly enabled. Their money is nothing short of blood money — money that could feed and house the force migrant laborers for perhaps their entire lives. FIFA has lived in a bubble of haughty invincibility for far too long. If Sepp Blatter still has a shred of a soul, he should have no other recourse than to retire. And FIFA, like so many other merchants of death, cannot possibly justify any innocence in the matter.
Despite his denouncement of FIFA, Nicholas Radoff is going to be eagerly watching the football in 2022, and we all know it. Get him to admit it to you at nradoff ‘at’ stanford.edu.