If you are having a bad day, just think about how FIFA’s day has gone. You wake up in your hotel in Switzerland room preparing for a big conference full of board elections and then the FBI comes crashing in to arrest 14 of your members. That’s how FIFA’s day started today.
Yup, the United States made it all the way to Zurich, Switzerland to arrest nine FIFA officials and an additional five board members on counts of corruption, conspiracy and racketeering. The issue calls into question the allocation of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups and business surrounding CONCACAF and CONMEBOL.
Of those arrested is FIFA Vice President Jeffrey Webb, which is definitely not a good sign for the organization. Surprisingly, Sepp Blatter’s name has yet to come up as one of those arrested.
With how easily athletes seem to get off today for breaking the law and such, you might think this will blow over soon. It doesn’t seem like it though, as US attorney general Loretta Lynch was quoted when speaking about the charges in a statement from the Department of Justice. She explained that the charges indicate “corruption that is rampant, systematic and deep rooted both abroad and here in the United States.”
She went on to add that “it spans at least two generations of soccer officials who, as alleged, have abused their positions of trust to acquire millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks.” How many millions you might ask? Lynch mentioned $110 million in bribes just surround the 2016 Copa America tournament.
So no, this is not just going to blow over. FIFA has a gun to its head at the moment and is definitely starting to sweat. Reportedly, already two corporations and four individual defendants have pled guilty and more are sure to come.
“Today’s announcement should send a message that enough is enough,” said Acting U.S. Attorney of the Eastern District of New York Kelly T. Currie. “After decades of what the indictment alleges to be brazen corruption, organized international soccer needs a new start.” It seems like the US government is intent on reworking FIFA.
And Currie has a point. Sepp Blatter’s being up for election as President for the fifth consecutive time, FIFA’s treatment of Brazilian laws in the months leading up to the 2014 World Cup and the rumblings of corruption surrounding the next two World Cups dictate enough cause to start fresh.
And you can expect more from this too. Currie added at the end of her statement, “Let me be clear: this indictment is not the final chapter in our investigation.” That is a daunting prospect for FIFA. And the pressure isn’t just coming from the US either. Swiss officials were the ones that made the physical arrests in Zurich on behalf of the FBI. Following that, the Swiss Office of the Attorney General announced that it would conducting a separate investigation of the voting process for both the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
Two different countries investigating you for corruption. Yikes. Definitely not a good sign. But FIFA continues to go on as if nothing is wrong. FIFA’s Director of Communications and Public Affairs Walter de Gregorio held a press conference earlier today at which he announced FIFA’s plan to proceed with preparations for both World Cups. FIFA also issued a press release, which details the many ways that FIFA is cooperating and reiterated its excitement at energy surrounding the investigation.
The funny thing is that what FIFA has done in response only makes me hate them more. Rather than acknowledge that yeah, this is an issue, it is content to sit back and act as if nothing is wrong. FIFA doesn’t even react to say that it is surprised by the arrests and will do whatever it can to help. It includes a line that indicates that it feels the investigation is redundant. And what organization announces its excitement that it is being investigated for corruption?
The whole situation is insane. It was only a matter of time before FIFA fell. Foreign governments have been on their heels for years and the ugly side of FIFA continues to be revealed. Corruption is part of its DNA at this point. There is no denying it with the number of scandals that have broken into the news that involve one FIFA executive or another. This seems to be the day of reckoning for FIFA but will it be enough?
There is no doubt in my mind that FIFA needs a fresh start. The problem is that it needs to start with the replacement of Sepp Blatter, who is widely expected to win reelection. Here’s to hoping that the Department of Justice comes up with some damning evidence against him in the next 24 hours or that these new allegations are enough to taint Blatter’s name (because somehow it’s not tainted enough) to the point where he would lose the election. Unlikely, but one can dream. Just imagine what FIFA without Sepp Blatter could be. I think it needs to happen as soon as possible. Even if Blatter isn’t behind all of this, holding on to an old regime rampant with it is not a great way to begin moving forward.