Justice Department exposes, hopes to eliminate ugly side of the beautiful game
I love football. I love Fußball. I love fútbol. I love soccer.
And though often viewed as a second-class citizen on the international stage, the United States has the eyes of the world focused on our government’s attempt to expose a 24-year, $150 million scheme to corrupt international soccer.
Make no mistake, the world turned on its axis Wednesday when Swiss authorities, at the behest of the U.S. Department of Justice, carried out a daybreak raid at the five-star Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich, where FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, is meeting this week to hold its presidential elections. Officers arrested 14 FIFA officials, including vice-presidents Jeffrey Webb and Eugenio Figueredo, who face extradition to the United States. The 47-count indictment, includes alleged wire fraud, racketeering and money laundering planned or carried out in the United States or through U.S. banks.
In addition, the FBI and IRS executed search warrants at CONCACAF headquarters in Miami Beach. CONCACAF (The Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football), the regional governing body for the U.S. men’s and women’s soccer teams. And Swiss prosecutors seized electronic data and documents at FIFA's headquarters in their criminal investigation of the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
At a press conference announcing the indictment Attorney General Loretta Lynch said for nearly a quarter century FIFA’s corruption has been rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted both abroad and here in the United States.
“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,” Lynch said. “And it has profoundly harmed a multitude of victims, from the youth leagues and developing countries that should benefit from the revenue generated by the commercial rights these organizations hold, to the fans at home and throughout the world whose support for the game makes those rights valuable. Today’s action makes clear that this Department of Justice intends to end any such corrupt practices, to root out misconduct, and to bring wrongdoers to justice.”
Six other people have pleaded guilty, including Charles Blazer, the U.S. representative of FIFA's executive committee from 1996 to 2013.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter, up for re-election today, has not been charged by the Americans or Swiss, but is still being investigated.
So why does this matter?
I love soccer and want to see it grow. I’d love nothing more than the United States to earn first-class citizenship internationally and constantly compete to win the World Cup. The best way to do that is to increase interest and participation in the game. The United States hosting the World Cup is the best way to do that.
It appeared the growth of the game in the United States was enough to land the tournament finals in 2022. Since 1994, the first and only time we hosted the World Cup, Americans have built a domestic professional league (Major League Soccer) with an international following, bought more tickets to the 2010 World Cup in Brazil than any other country than Brazil according to FIFA, and have increased broadcasts of games from England, Spain, Germany, France, Scotland, Australia, and around the globe.
Instead, Qatar, a Middle Eastern country flush with oil money won.
Despite being last on FIFA’s technical report for lacking the climate for an outdoor tournament in June forcing a winter tournament, the infrastructure or stadia to host the tournament, a domestic league, the workforce to build the facilities needed or a positive human rights record, Qatar lined the right pockets and beat out the United States.
It was shocking when FIFA announced it, but pulled the curtain back on FIFA leadership’s ambivalence about shielding even a hint of corruption. The world knew it, and al
As aforementioned, I love soccer and want to see our country’s best athletes representing the United States in international play. The success of Title IX has built strong high school and collegiate women’s soccer programs across the country, which has resulted in two Women’s World Cup championships. Hopefully our ladies will add a third star to their jersey’s shield this summer.
While men’s soccer hasn’t grown as much on the collegiate level comparatively, interest is continuing to grow exponentially. The excitement that followed the U.S. team as it played in Brazil last summer was magical. I can’t imagine what it would be if they were the home team.
It will be interesting to see what happens to those charged. Will Blatter be re-elected? Charged? Will the 2022 World Cup stay as it is? Or will the United States have the opportunity to host that it’s earned?