On Wednesday morning, May 27, six executives of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, otherwise known as FIFA, were arrested by Swiss plainclothes police officers at the Baur au Lac Hotel in Zurich, Switzerland.
Later that day in New York City, a total of 14 people were indicted on 47 criminal counts related to racketeering, money laundering and wire fraud. In addition to the FIFA executives, a broadcasting corporation owner and some sports marketing executives were also among those indicted.
BRIBES AND KICKBACKS
Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the indictments by saying that the criminal activity dates back to 1991 and involves millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks. Those bribes were provided from the sports marketing executives in order to obtain exclusive television deals for soccer matches played under the FIFA banner, including the World Cup.
Four other people and a pair of corporate executives agreed to plead guilty in exchange for testifying against the indicted individuals. For this, the six will receive no jail time, with one of the executives agreeing to give up $151 million he had been given.
The reason the United States issued indictments, even though none of the indicted individuals are American, is because banks doing business in the United States were used in the transactions.
The 14 defendants in this FIFA scandal are primarily connected to organizations that run soccer in both North and South America: CONCACAF and CONMEBOL. However, one name that’s conspicuously absent is the president of FIFA himself, Joseph (Sepp) Blatter, who’s been at the helm since 1998.
BLATTER UNDER FIRE
Blatter has been criticized in the past for sexist comments about women soccer players, saying that their game would be more popular if their shorts were tighter. In addition, he used more than $14 million of FIFA’s money to help finance a film about the organization entitled United Passions.
The Swiss involvement is related their own investigation related to bribes being paid to FIFA in exchange for the World Cups of 2018 and 2022 being awarded to Russia and Qatar, respectively, in December 2010.
THE CONTROVERSY OVER QATAR
The decision to select Qatar was controversial from the start, since FIFA agreed to shift the event to winter time, rather than the traditional month of summer contests. That was because the regular summer conditions in Qatar result in temperatures of more than 120 degrees every day.
The problem with shifting the time frame for the 2022 World Cup is that most international leagues are competing at that time. Should the schedule remain as is, those leagues would have to either shut down, or many of the most prominent players for the championship would not be able to compete in the event. That potential circumstance has been compared to having the NBA shut down in order to play the FIBA Basketball World Cup.
An additional reason that the selection of Qatar raised eyebrows is that the small country has no tradition when it comes to soccer and thus would need to build multiple stadiums to hold the different matches.
The construction of those stadiums to play the World Cup matches in Qatar has created a moral issue that’s led to charges of slave labor and other human rights abuses. The latter charges have also been leveled at Russia, with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin denying the claims and charging that the United States had no legal authority to issue indictments.
THE QUEST FOR BROADCASTING RIGHTS
Regarding the bribes allegedly paid by broadcasting entities, the desire to obtain rights is because the World Cup is considered at or near the top of sporting events in the world. The Super Bowl pales in comparison, simply because many countries are involved in a month-long event, as opposed to one game on a single day. So world cup betting numbers far surpass that of the superbowl. That means that worldwide rights can be lucrative to whatever organization obtains the rights.
EVERYTHING STAYS THE SAME
While there’s no indication of when any trial will begin, the FIFA scandal hasn’t changed the opinions of the country that make up the voting bloc. On May 29, they re-elected Blatter to another term as president.