What do soccer fans, Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal and the U.S. Department of Justice have in common? They are not happy with Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA).
On July 15, at a hearing in Washington, D.C., of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee for Consumer Protection, Ranking Member Blumenthal (D-Conn.), called for greater transparency and accountability in U.S. Soccer as the FIFA scandal unfolds. Blumenthal sought answers on when and who in U.S. Soccer was aware of the criminal wrongdoing plaguing international soccer – wrongdoing that has led to sweeping corruption charges from the U.S. Department of Justice.
To Blumenthal, soccer is a growing and important sport in the United States and the country takes pride and enjoyment from the game, especially with the U.S. Women’s World Cup win last month.
He feels that the corruption uncovered by the Department of Justice’s vigorous investigation of FIFA is a disservice to the game.
“It betrays the trust of countless men and women, many of them young people just beginning in this sport who have a right to expect better from the leaders of this sport.”
In May of this year, a 47-count indictment was unsealed in federal court in Brooklyn, N.Y., charging 14 defendants with racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies, among other offenses, in connection with the defendants’ participation in a 24-year scheme to enrich themselves through the corruption of international soccer.
“[T]he facts show that there had to be either willful ignorance or blatant incompetence on the part of many of the members of this organization, and that’s true of the U.S. Soccer Federation as well. They either knew about it or they should have known about it, and I’m not sure which is worse,” Blumenthal stated, adding that many of these crimes were committed in the United States.
The defendants charged in the indictment include high-ranking FIFA officials, leaders of the organization responsible for the regulation and promotion of soccer worldwide, as well as leading officials of other soccer governing bodies that operate under the FIFA umbrella. Jeffrey Webb and Jack Warner – the current and former presidents of CONCACAF, the continental confederation under FIFA headquartered in the United States – are among the soccer officials charged with racketeering and bribery offenses.
The defendants also include South American sports marketing executives alleged to have systematically paid and agreed to pay well over $150 million in bribes and kickbacks to obtain lucrative media and marketing rights to international soccer tournaments.
“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,” stated U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch.
In the last week of May, Swiss police raided a Zurich hotel to detain top FIFA football officials as part of the U.S. corruption investigation. Those arrested in Zurich hailed from the Cayman Islands, Trinidad and Tobago, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Uruguay, Venezuela and Brazil, among others.
In addition, the Justice Department unsealed guilty plea deals with four other individual and two corporate defendants, including former FIFA executive Charles Blazer, and José Hawilla, the owner and founder of a Brazilian sports marketing conglomerate. Hawilla agreed to forfeit $151 million as a part of his plea, to avoid jail time.
“The fact of the matter is that what has been revealed so far is a mafia-style crime syndicate in charge of this sport. My only hesitation in using that term is that it is almost insulting to the mafia because the mafia would never have been so blatant, overt and arrogant in its corruption,” said Blumenthal at the hearing.
But how was all this corruption within FIFA made possible? It all comes down to the way FIFA is organized. Each of the 209 member nations gets a single vote when it comes to electing a federation president and executive committee. That means that the Maldives, Trinidad and Tobago or Costa Rica have the same say in federation decisions as Brazil, Germany or England.
Therefore, the smaller countries, and those who run their countries’ federations, also receive an equal cut of FIFA’s revenues — which creates no incentive for them to change any of the structure of the voting process.
To the Connecticut Senator, only reforms that install greater transparency and accountability can shed the necessary light required to disinfect the corruption in the organization.
“One proposal is in fact to reorganize it as a corporation, or some part of it, as a public corporation. I am proud that the United States has led the world in bringing these scandals to light, and holding individuals responsible. But that job is far from over.”
Blumenthal believes that there needs to be additional action that involves not only members of the public, and public officials, but also the private corporations that sponsor these events.
He called for corporate organizations that sponsor international soccer like McDonald’s, Nike, Coca-Cola and Visa to play their part by ensuring that they stand as guardians of good governance.
“They must do so, rather than sit in silence as beneficiaries who benefit from opaque governance.”