FIFA’s Fall From Grace

Basil Wilson's picture

The football season for 2014-2015 is approaching the final curtain.  This Saturday, June 6, 2015 Barcelona the champions of La Liga will play Juventus, the champions of Serie A in Berlin for the signature prize in the UEFA Championship game.  Last Saturday we witnessed the tail end of the season entailing cup finals with Arsenal flouncing Aston Villa for the FA Cup, Barcelona easily defeating Athletico Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain edging out second division Auxerre in the French Cup.

Soccer fans attending the matches or watching on television were treated to some great soccer.  The billions of soccer fans around the world were oblivious to the embarrassing criminality that has severely damaged the reputation of FIFA, the world body that oversees football in the four corners of the globe.  The United States Justice Department has returned a 47 count indictment against some of the principal decision-makers that comprise the Executive Committee of FIFA.

These are not frivolous charges and they are an outgrowth of a hard-nosed multi- year investigation.  Criminality in the confederations of CONCACAF and CONMEBOL was not an isolated phenomenon but a highly institutionalized form of corruption that has been rampant since the 1980s.

FIFA has been aware of the corrosive nature of corruption in the administrative apparatus of the worldwide organization.  FIFA adopted a Code of Ethics in recent years and has revisited that Code making changes and amendments.  But the existence of the FIFA Code of Ethics simply did not thwart the juggernaut of the racketeering and conspiracy that is deeply rooted in CONCACAF and CONMEBOL, the two premier confederations in the western hemisphere.

In recent decades professional sports have mushroomed to become a mega business.  The explosion of professional sport as a spectacle now transcends national boundaries.  The baseball World Series or the NBA play-offs attract millions but world soccer is simply the most popular and the most watched professional sport at this juncture.

There is the dictat that absolute power corrupts absolutely.  The Presidents and Vice-Presidents of the confederations in the western hemisphere have abused their respective power.  They have been more pre-occupied with their own self-enrichment and greed. What has been contrived in modern day soccer is the criminal racketeering that brings together FIFA executives and sport marketing agencies.  The latter in vying for the rights to televise games and the subsequent lucrative market of advertising triggers the necessity to corner the market.  What the Justice Department has charged is that sport marketing entities like Traffic have bought exclusive rights to tournaments like the Gold Cup and Copa America.  They lock in their hegemony by establishing a symbiotic relationship with the decision-makers in CONCACAF or CONMEBOL.  As the size of the audience becomes more and more worldwide, the mega-bucks engender bribes and kickbacks.

It was somewhat heartening to see soccer administrators from the Caribbean rising to leadership positions in CONCACAF and in FIFA.  The Trinidadian, Jack Warner, rose to be President of CONCACAF and an influential Vice President of FIFA.  But Warner obviously was less interested in the beautiful game and more drawn to the amassing of wealth by any means necessary.  Of all the characters charged by the Department of Justice, U.S.A., Warner’s conduct is the most odious.  He and his sidekick turned prosecution witness, Chuck Blazer, served as General Secretary when Warner was President of CONCACAF.  Both were cut from the same cloth and were instrumental in bringing great disrepute to the administrative level of football.  They were pioneers in the bribery and kickback schemes with the marketing companies.
The Justice Department has a detailed account of Jack Warner being illegally paid $10 million for his vote to award South Africa the 2010 World Cup.  Chuck Blazer was promised $1 million for his vote and the Assistant Attorney General in the Eastern District of New York has traced the money to both Warner’s and Blazer’s accounts.

By May 2011, Jack Warner’s shenanigans had caught up with him. He facilitated a meeting with a proposed opponent of Blatter who hailed from Qatar.  The proposed candidate following in the corrupt culture of FIFA met with the members of the Caribbean Football Union and greased the individual delegations with alleged $40,000.  Once that scandal broke, Jack Warner resigned from his prestigious positions in football and returned full time to his precarious political career.

What is disheartening is that Jack Warner was succeeded to the CONCACAF presidency by Jeffrey Webb, a long time President of football in the Cayman Islands.  Not long after assuming office, Jeffrey Webb was caught with his hands in the cookie jar.  He succumbed to the same structure of corruption that brought out the worst in previous CONCACAF officials.  Webb, like Warner, et al, is facing serious charges of racketeering, money laundering and banking fraud, etc.  This march to greed, if found guilty, with the forfeiture laws, could leave these former high-ranking FIFA administrators in a final state of penuriousness.

The Webbs and Warners of the world were not interested in a level playing field.  Fortunately, there is a distance that separates crooked administrators from the gifted players who bring glory to the beautiful game.  The Women’s World Cup in Canada is about to begin.  Copa America will be concomitant with the Women’s World Cup and the Under 20 World Cup is getting ready to be underway in New Zealand.

Sepp Blatter was re-elected by the FIFA Congress by a sizeable margin.  It would have been better for soccer for the 79 year old President of FIFA to have withdrawn his name from re-election.  FIFA needs new blood and a more effective monitoring system to cleanse the administrative arm from wallowing in skullduggery.  The investigations are still ongoing and there is already more than a fair share of squealing pigs.  More pigs might rise from the sty and there could be further indictments.  FIFA needs to make a clean break with the criminal skullduggery that has marred the seventeen years of Blatter’s leadership.

*Dr. Basil Wilson is Provost Emeritus of John Jay College of Criminal Justice and Executive Director of the King Research Institute, Monroe College, Bronx, New York. He can be reached at: