The soccer world was rocked recently by what many lovers of “the beautiful game” thought may never come to be, a sweeping and powerful institutional assault on the corruption and graft that for decades had been fundamental to the operation of one of the most powerful sports organizations on the planet, FIFA. FIFA (“Fédération Internationale de Football Association”) is a member organization that operates international soccer competitions – primarily the world’s biggest sporting event, the World Cup – and seeks to promote the development of the game.
FIFA is composed of 209 member nations, each of which have equal voting power. Thus, countries like the Solomon Islands have the same voting authority as soccer powers such as Germany, Brazil and Argentina. FIFA has been spearheaded by its President, Sepp Blatter, since 1996. During Blatter’s tenure, FIFA aggressively expanded its influence outside of the traditionally dominant regions of Europe and South America. While this expansion was in many ways good for the game, it also provided an opportunity for unscrupulous international football officials to exploit their positions of power by selling their influence to the highest bidder. Also, FIFA’s status as a member-based association registered under Swiss law with little-to-no outside oversight – it is not a corporate body, registered nonprofit or NGO – further enabled illegality to flourish. As corruption was running rampant in world soccer and despite much public outcry over FIFA’s operations, Blatter was able to maintain his hold on power in part because so many of FIFA’s member nations were beholden to him, given his initial role in enabling so many soccer officials to acquire their positions of power in the first place. Although reelected, Blatter recently announced he would resign just days after his reelection.
While the Justice Department’s Indictment of multiple FIFA officials and their alleged co-conspirators provided the catalyst for change at FIFA, it was the United States’ own comically corrupt FIFA representative and former President of CONCACAF (the regional soccer authority of which the United States is a member), Chuck Blazer, who was so central to the criminal conduct at the core of the Indictment (Blazer maintained a $6,000-a-month apartment in New York’s Trump Tower just for his cats).
The Indictment alleges RICO conspiracy and multiple substantive counts of wire fraud, bank fraud, bribery, money laundering and conspiracy. The central allegations are that Central and South American soccer officials, through their positions at FIFA, accepted bribes totaling over 150 million dollars from marketing executives looking to secure broadcasting rights to FIFA controlled soccer matches. These executives would then sell the rights to broadcasters. Besides the U.S. Indictment, multiple foreign governments and FIFA itself are conducting investigations. Reports indicate that authorities are investigating allegations of bribery in the voting process for virtually every world cup held in the last twenty years, the bogus allocation of money for nonexistent charities around the world, and who knows how many other forms of illicit conduct.