How the international soccer administrators must have laughed at recent sporting headlines coming out of the National Football League.
“A team is being punished for deflating the footballs? Hahahahaha!”
“What, no kickbacks? No corruption? No under-the-table bid-rigging?”
“Hahahahaha … such Boy Scouts!”
“The NFL, yes, a paragon of integrity!”
The laughter stopped when the knocking started on the doors early Wednesday and indictments were handed out like a flurry of red cards.
Seven FIFA officials were arrested in Switzerland as a total of 14 officials from various international federations were indicted in criminal investigations of fraud, conspiracy, money laundering, bribes, etc. — crimes alleged to have occurred for decades.
The charges against officials in soccer’s international governing body were based on investigations by the U.S. Justice Department, FBI and the IRS — working in conjunction with Swiss authorities.
It read like a Sopranos script without the cannoli. But it involved the most extensive and powerful sporting organization in the world, and revealed a suspicion that’s been around for a while: FIFA is rotten.
While it appears to be a sweeping housecleaning, a multinational purge of corruption and greed, the joke is that FIFA president Sepp Blatter is not currently indicted.
Blatter has been at the head of this organization since 1998. If he’s insulated himself from obvious profiteering, he’s nonetheless overseen this snake pit for 17 years. So he’s either crooked or oblivious.
He’s not only smugly indifferent to the charges, he’s running for re-election as FIFA president on Friday. If this 79-year-old, considered the most powerful man in the world of sports, isn’t given a bicycle kick out of office, this organization is an irredeemable joke.
The misappropriation of the money is what will make the headlines, but the human impact is far more bothersome.
This is the worst kind of fraud, because it’s not only exploitative, but deadly and feeds off the tragically vulnerable.
While FIFA generated some $3 billion in revenue (in television/marketing rights and corporate endorsement deals) from South Africa’s World Cup in 2010, the struggling South African economy reportedly recouped just $500 million of the more than $4 billion it spent on stadiums, infrastructure and other costs.
According to preliminary investigations, millions in bribes were granted to FIFA officials to grease Russia’s bid for hosting in 2018. Yes, that’s the Russia with the daily human-rights violations.
The most distressing of FIFA’s villainy has to be the fallout from the reputedly bid-rigged decision to grant the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, a tiny desert country that greased the right palms.
Site construction in Qatar is apparently reliant on what amounts to slave labor, where immigrant workers are dying at a reported rate of nearly one every other day because of the heat, horrid working and living conditions and the lack of safety procedures.
Basically, these humans are considered disposable by those looking to profit from a soccer tournament.
Some estimates cite a body count of 1,200 migrant workers thus far in Qatar on projects promoted by FIFA, whose officers already have lined their pockets with millions in bribes — now, more accurately, blood money.
More investigations and indictments hopefully will follow. It’s surprising, actually, that it took this long.
And it will be a good for the sport when the omnipotent Blatter is taken down with the rest of the greed-driven power brokers.
The look on the face of U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch when announcing the indictments and findings made it evident that this was only the beginning.
One report holds that if some post-purge reconfiguration of FIFA decides to pull the World Cup from Qatar, it might call on the U.S. to host the games.
It will be cooler here. The stadiums are already in place. No bribes will be needed.
And we can guarantee the balls will be properly inflated.