On May 27th nine FIFA officials and four sports management company executives were arrested at the Hotel Baur au Lac in Zurich where they were preparing to attend the 65th FIFA Congress. The investigation, conducted by the US FBI, linked the senior officials to wire fraud, racketeering, and money laundering. The searched linked officials of continental soccer bodies CONMEBOL (South America) and CONCACAF (Caribbean, Central and North America) and sports marketing executives. The nine FIFA officials were extradited to the United States on suspicion of receiving $150 million in bribes, stretching back 24 years.
A big centerpiece around this whole scandal has been FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who was not among the accused, and in fact was re-elected to his 5th term as FIFA president. Blatter has spent more than half of his 79-year life with FIFA, as he started as the Director of Development Programs, then General Secretary, and since 1998, he has been the President (standing unopposed in 2007 and 2011). Over that time FIFA has made a fortune through marketing partnerships, sponsorship deals, and television contracts. FIFA boasted revenues of $5.7 billion and $1.5 billion in cash reserves between 2011-2014.
Although Blatter did win the reelection last week, there is more bad news expected to come his way from the American Justice System. And fallout from his election could bring pressure from football’s European Confederation, UEFA, which has the power to splinter the world’s governing body. Blatter isn’t any stranger to adversity though. In 2004, Blatter was severely criticized for his comments on Women’s Football saying, “Let the women play in more feminine clothes like they do in volleyball. They could, for example, have tighter shorts.” Responding to Qatar laws on homosexuality, he said, “I’d say the [gay fans] should refrain from any sexual activities.” Blatter later apologized for both comments.
Despite that, and the allegations of the fraud within his own organization, Blatter remains. For now, he has survived another crisis, but he will need all of his political tenacity to stay atop the organization for the remainder of his upcoming 5th term.
The suspicion and conspiracy against the FIFA officials started back in 2012 with the Garcia Report. The report was produced by Michael Garcia, a US attorney, who was appointed by Blatter to be the chairman of the investigative branch of the Ethics Committee. The report breaks down the bidding process and decision to award the right to host the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cup to Russia and Qatar. Specifically, in May 2011, while before a British parliamentary inquiry, the former chairman of England’s failed 2018 bid, David Triesmann, accused FIFA executive committee members Jack Warner, Worawi Makudi, Nicolas Leoz and Ricardo Teixeira of requesting bribes from the English team in exchange for support. The inquiry also received evidence that FIFA executive committee members Issa Hayatou and Jacques Anouma were reportedly bribed with $1.5 million by the Qatar team.
The FIFA officials that were indicted last week included:
Jeffrey Webb – President of the Confederation of North, Central America and
Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF)
Jack Warner – The Former President of CONCACAF
Eduardo Li – current FIFA executive committee president and president of
the Costa Rican soccer federation
Julio Rocha – current FIFA development officer and former head of the
Central American Football Union
Costas Takkas – an attache and former general secretary of the Cayman
Islands Football Association
Eugenio Figueredo – current FIFA vice president and executive Committee Members
Rafael Esquivel – president of the Venezuelan soccer federation
Jose Maria Marin – member of the FIFA organizing committee for the Olympic football tournament
Nicolas Leoz – former FIFA executive committee member
Alejandro Burzaco – a sports marketing executive based in Argentina
Aaron Davidson – president of Traffic Sports USA
Hugo and Mariano Jinkis – principals of Full Play Group, a sports marketing business based in Argentina
These indictments were the result and culmination of a three-year investigation of FIFA. So what does this mean for the future of FIFA? What about the future of the world’s most popular sport?
These are questions that will ultimately play themselves out over time. This scandal is obviously not good press for the sport, as it brings to light many things that the sport’s governing body has tried to hide for decades and decades. Soccer has operated for several years under an ugly cloud of allegations related to match-fixing in professional leagues and bribery in connection with the hosting of the sport’s premier competition, the World Cup.
Having said that, the Garcia Report along with these pending arrests and indictments does, in a way, bring some closure to a long talked about culture of bribery and corruption. The Ethics Committee ultimately did their job in bringing to light the fraud that was occurring and these arrests were a consequence of that. Time will tell, what else will come to light through the judicial process; however Blatter and the remaining top management at FIFA have both a challenge and opportunity to rebrand the world’s most popular sport’s governing body.
With such big soccer events coming up in the next two months like the FIFA U20 World Cup (happening now in New Zealand), the UEFA Champions League Final between Barcelona and Juventus (June 6), the Women’s World Cup in Canada (June 6-July 5), and the CONCACAF Gold Cup in the US (July 6-26), the sport will certainly maintain outlets to shift the focus from the FIFA scandal.
It will undoubtedly be interesting to see how FIFA is able to maintain it’s power and brand through this crisis.