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FIFA's Nest Of Thieves

Federal agents load a van with boxes of evidence taken from the headquarters of the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF,) Wednesday, May 27, 2015, in Miami Beach, Fla. Swiss prosecutors opened criminal proceedings into FIFA's awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, only hours after seven soccer officials were arrested Wednesday pending extradition to the U.S. in a separate probe of "rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted" corruption. (Wilfredo Lee/AP)
Federal agents load a van with boxes of evidence taken from the headquarters of the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF,) Wednesday, May 27, 2015, in Miami Beach, Fla. Swiss prosecutors opened criminal proceedings into FIFA's awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, only hours after seven soccer officials were arrested Wednesday pending extradition to the U.S. in a separate probe of "rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted" corruption. (Wilfredo Lee/AP)

An old saying, which I first heard applied to baseball, goes like this: “It must be a heck of a great game to have survived the people who run it.”

Soccer is a great game.

It has survived — even flourished — despite FIFA, the organization that oversees the international game.

Wednesday’s arrests were shocking only in the sense that seeing any seven people marching out of a very expensive hotel in Zurich between police officers on the way to incarceration early on a spring morning is shocking. Especially if some of those being escorted have bed sheets over their heads.

Wednesday’s arrests were shocking only in the sense that seeing any seven people marching out of a very expensive hotel in Zurich between police officers on the way to incarceration early on a spring morning is shocking.

FIFA’s official response to the spectacle was that the organization “welcomes actions that can help contribute to rooting out any wrongdoing in football.” That contention would have been more credible if FIFA had next announced that Sepp Blatter would not seek a fifth term as president of the organization after all, but that didn’t happen. Instead, we learned that as far as FIFA is concerned, the only immediate impact of the arrests and indictments will be that fewer votes will be cast on Friday, because numbers of the men who’d otherwise have been voting will instead be huddled with their attorneys. Based on the FIFA’s history and the history of charges brought against its lords, they’ll be trying to figure out how much they can help themselves by tossing their fellow conspirators under the bus.

A Wednesday New York Times story asserted that “with more than $1.5 billion in reserves, FIFA is as much a global financial conglomerate as a sports organization.”

This is a charitable characterization of FIFA. A less charitable characterization might have replaced “global financial conglomerate” with “nest of thieves,” though perhaps that’s a distinction without a difference.

The FIFA executives already arrested or named in indictments have been charged with racketeering, wire fraud, and money laundering conspiracy. Bribes have also come into the conversation, as have kickbacks, which are not to be confused with back kicks. And according to Kelly T. Currie, acting U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, “this is the beginning of our effort, not the end.” Swiss authorities essentially seconded that motion by announcing that they have “opened criminal cases related to bids for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups,” which suggests that the news regarding bribes, kickbacks, etc. will go on for some time.

Optimists will hope that means Qatar will lose the opportunity to host the World Cup, not necessarily because the corruption attending that choice was any worse than previous instances of corruption, but because putting the World Cup in Qatar is a ridiculous idea for more reasons than there is space here to explore.

Pessimists will assume that the seats vacated or soon to be vacated by these particular crooks will soon be filled by men or women who are as bad if not worse, but more clever and careful at covering their backsides as they line their pockets.

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