The Swiss and U.S. Justice Departments dealt a crippling blow to FIFA yesterday with a whopping 14 indictments of the soccer organization’s executives. And though it’ll be years before we know the final score, this run is far from done.
To put it mildly, the scope of this is massive. Wednesday morning saw arrests of 14 people allegedly involved in 47 counts of corruption, including racketeering, wire fraud, and money laundering. And when officials announced the arrests Wednesday morning Kelly Currie, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said “this indictment would not be the final chapter in [the] investigation—which is easy to believe, given the scope of how many bases this case covers. But even with such an already impressive roster of crimes, the final whistle is far from blown on this case.
U.S. makes the call
Saying it’s going to be long road would be putting it mildly, given that the U.S. now has to start arranging for the extradition of the people it’s indicted so far in order to try them. And even if the proper extradition agreements are in place, many worry that FIFA’s indicted executives likely have the money to hire lawyers to manufacture delays.
But it’s a move that likely wasn’t think they made lightly, given that Attorney General Loretta Lynch is so new to the job.
Though FIFA officials were publicly shocked when it happened, these allegations are far from new. The soccer organization has been dogged by allegations of corruption for years. FIFA has its hand in soccer across the globe, with athletes ranging from professional players to children, and the case against them alleges that various schemes, bribes, and corrupt politics have gone on for 24 years.
For many years now it’s been sort of an open secret (or at least a widely spread discussion topic) that with FIFA what you see is not what you get. When FIFA tried to rid itself of the rumors of corruption in 2012, they hired prominent U.S. attorney Michael Garcia, and declared the organization, unsurprisingly, corruption-free at the end of his investigation.
However within hours of FIFA’s announcement Garcia denounced the secrecy of the organization and publicly claimed that their report was inaccurate with what he’d learned in the past year and a half, ultimately resigning because of their handling of the issue. And as David Smyth notes on Cady Bar the Door, it should’ve been a sign for FIFA that the problem wasn’t going to go away:
A primary feature of any legitimate internal investigation is the investigator’s independence from the subject. Garcia is exhibiting a fairly extreme version of that independence here. It’s not often that a white shoe investigator makes an exit this noisy. As Tom Fox notes, “If your outside counsel disavows him or herself from the company’s interpretation of [an internal investigation], you are in big trouble.” FIFA might have hoped that it would be able to contain the damage by hiring him to bless some version of the facts that was just vague enough for everyone to keep his job. Instead, an actual criminal investigation is on its way.
And the result of that criminal investigation begins now. But even if it’s not the final move on the Justice Department’s side, don’t expect changes overnight. Similar to the Lance Armstrong trial (which took years and years), the FIFA officials have a long, hard fight in front of them.
All this flurry comes only two days before FIFA was set to vote on a president for the organization. Until now Sepp Blatter has been known for his ability to withstand any scandal. but this could be what finally does him in, even if Blatter wasn’t indicted in this first wave.
Many pundits and critics are already calling for his resignation, saying that FIFA can’t start fresh under his reign. As USA Today reports:
This isn’t the first time people have taken a run at Sepp Blatter. He knows how this works. He will say he’s just as surprised as anyone, and eager to investigate these problems. Then, when the day is done, and no one can pin anything concrete on him, he will quietly go back to organizing FIFA the way he wants it.
.…[Blatter] has faced numerous challenges for his presidency of FIFA, and every time he managed to cajole, coerce and gather enough votes to remain in power. And he’s careful, too — you better believe the Justice Department wanted to bring him down with their arrests this morning, but couldn’t for any number of reasons. The Justice Department made sure to point out that this investigation wasn’t over in their press release, which is a clear message saying: Don’t worry, we’re still going after Blatter.
And Blatter isn’t the only one whose involvement remains murky. In their report, Justice Department officials referenced an unidentified sportswear company bribed by a Brazilian soccer official for sponsorship deal in 1996, the same year Nike announced a decade-long partnership with Brazil’s soccer team. Nike has already put out a statement defending itself, and so far Currie has declined to comment on the unidentified company. But as it seems now, this problem is a lot more widespread than just a couple of bad apples, as FIFA would have the public believe. The only thing that’s apparently certain? The organization’s decision to select Russia for the site of the 2018 cup and Qatar for the 2022 cup (though often pointed to as an example of the corrupt organization) will reportedly stick.