God bless America. It wasn’t even supposed to be their game and that’s why nobody expected what we saw – the Feds metaphorically smashing through the Fifa door with their arrest warrants and their declaration that “if you touch our shores with your corrupt enterprise you will be held accountable”.
There was certainly a cheesiness about the clip-art footballs they used in the Justice Department press conference room to illustrate the dimensions of this war they are waging – and in their description of this criminality as “the World Cup of fraud and we are issuing Fifa the red card”.
But it was none less than Loretta Lynch, the Attorney General of the United States of America, standing up to say what we have waited 20 years to hear someone say: that the game is up for Fifa. “They took a soccer enterprise and turned it into a criminal enterprise,” she said.
To hear the details pour out of what Lynch says happened “over and over; year after year; tournament after tournament”– the $11m in unreported income trousered by Charles “Chuck” Blazer, a former Fifa executive committee member; the alleged £110m in bribes just to host the 2016 Copa America which constituted a third of all the tournament’s rights – was to wish that the Americans had also got their hands on the investigation into how Russia and Qatar got the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. The European soil stuff belongs to the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland.
Inhale this fresh air of a liberating spirit while you can, though, because it will not be long before we are plunged back into the foul stench of Fifa once more. For a sense of how deep that particular slough is, you only had to hear the organisation’s director of communications, Walter de Gregorio, talk – a few hours after 14 of his colleagues were marched away from the five-star Baur au Lac hotel at daybreak, denied its twice daily housekeeping service, private garage, car wash and massage on demand, and placed under arrest.
The Fifa bigwigs facing charges
The Fifa bigwigs facing charges
1/14 Jeffrey Webb, 50, Cayman Iskands
A Fifa vice president. His arrest came as a big surprise, as he had been tipped as the man to clean up Fifa once Blatter departs. Webb is also president of Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (Concacaf) and the Cayman Islands Football Association
2/14 Costas Takkas, 58, UK
A British citizen, Mr Takkas is currently an attache to the Concacaf president. He was previously general secretary of the Cayman Islands Football Association, of which Mr Webb is president
3/14 Jack Warner, 72, (pictured), Daryan Warner, 46 and Daryll Warner, 40, Trinidad & Tobago
The former Fifa vice president and head of Concacaf was a dominant force in football for 30 years, but was suspended from his roles in 2011 amid accusations of corruption dating back to the 1980s and an investigation by Fifa's ethics committee. He later resigned, ending the proceedings against him. Daryan Warner, the son of Jack Warner is also believed to have co-operated with the FBI. He pleaded guiltyin October 2013 to wire fraud conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy and the structuring of financial transactions, forfeiting $1.1m. Daryll Warner, another of Jack Warner's sons, he pleaded guilty to various offences in July 2013. A former Fifa development officer, he lost the job in 2012 after his father's resignation amid corruption allegations. He and his brother both face up to 10 years in prison
4/14 Charles Blazer, 70, USA
The former Concacaf general secretary reportedly turned "supergrass" to help the FBI inestigation, using a bugging device hidden inside a key fob to record meetigs with his Fifa colleagues at the London 2012 Olympics. In November 2013 he pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, and income tax evasion. Seriously ill with colon cancer
5/14 Rafael Esquivel, 68, Venezuela
Executive committee member of the South American Football Confederetion (Conmebol). It is alleged that officials at Conmebol, which organises the Copa America, received bribes from marketing executives
6/14 Eugenio Figueredo, 83, USA/Uruguay
The Fifa vice president and executive committee member is a big name in world football, having previously been at the head of Conmebol and the Uruguayan Football Association. A former right-back
7/14 Nicolas Leoz, 86, Paraguay
A former Fifa executive committee member and Conmebol president. When he retired in 2013 for health reasons, he said: "I've not stolen so much as a cent"
8/14 Eduardo Li, 56, Costa Rica
President of the Costa Rican Football Federation. He was elected to Fifa's executive commitee in March
9/14 José Maria Marin, 83, Brazil
The former president of the Brazilian Football Confederation is also a member of Fifa's committee for Olympic tournaments
10/14 Julio Rocha, 64, Nicaragua
Fifa development officer. Previously president of his country's football federation
11/14 José Hawilla, 71, Brazil
The owner and founder of the Traffic Group, a sports marketing conglomerate, pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy, and money laundering conspiracy in 2014. Two of his companies - Traffic Sports International Inc and Traffic Sports USA Inc - have also pleaded guilty
12/14 Aaron Davidson, 44, USA
President of Traffic Sports USA, is a large promoter of football events in America
13/14 Alejandro Burzaco, 50, (pictured), Hugo Jinkis, 70 and Mariano Jinkis, 40, Argentina
Alejandro Burzaco, a media executive who controls Torneos y Competencias, a sports marketing business. Hugo Jinkis, is the president of Full Play Group, a sports marketing business in Argentina. His son Mariano, is vice president
14/14 José Margulies (AKA José Lazaro), 75, Brazil
Although he is in broadcasting, it is alleged he served as an intermediary to facilitate illicit payments between sports marketing executives and Fifa officials
“How can you say he should step down?” De Gregorio said to the suggestion that 24 years of bribery had happened on Sepp Blatter’s watch. “No. The president is not involved. Of course, he is the head of Fifa but he is not involved in any... So how can you, can you, can you say, he has to whatsoever step down? He is the president. He is the president. He is the president. And if the 209 members re-elect him, he is the president for the next four years…”
To hear this incantation from De Gregorio was to know how much it will take to rip out the heart of an institutionally toxic organisation such as this. “Two No’s for you: No. No,” he replied to the question of the Russia and Qatar World Cups being in doubt. He insinuated that the FBI had acted now for the purposes of good PR – “a good international coverage,” as De Gregorio put it. Fifa, he observed in the high point of denial, “was the damaged party”. The trouble with these periodic Fifa haemorrhages is that Blatter and the men who do his talking for him always find enough friends to ward them off. Remember Jack Warner’s threatened “tsunami” of allegations against Blatter at the same stage in the Fifa cycle four years ago? Perhaps not, because Blatter breezed to re-election to ask: “Crisis. What crisis?”
As Russia, one of Blatter’s winners, predictably became his latest cheerleader, condemning what it described as an “illegal extra-territorial implantation of American law”, you sensed that this fight calls for those who can hurt Fifa commercially to share the Justice Department’s moral indignation and drive to act. Organisations such as the BBC and ITV, for example, whose vast sums of money for broadcast rights for Russia and Qatar will line the pockets of an organisation whose officials – it seems – have been accepting bribes and kickbacks on European soil since the 1990s. The chances of either the BBC or ITV boycotting Fifa are precisely nil, though, because they consider the World Cup Final audience too much to give up. They know that if they sacrifice the chance to show it, there will always be someone else to take their place.
The same lack of unity also exists among advertisers, despite the superficial noise about Visa and adidas entering the public realm on the subject of Fifa. “We can only encourage Fifa to continue to establish and follow transparent compliance standards of everything they do,” adidas said in a statement, contributing the sum total of nothing. And it is the same story for individual football associations. The Conservative MP Damian Collins reiterated his belief (also articulated by Gary Lineker) that England should boycott Russia and Qatar. But the FA knows that it would be in a minority, in a gesture which would be financially disastrous because World Cup qualifying campaigns pay the Wembley overdraft. Supporters won’t be enamoured with a boycott either because the indignation doesn’t run that deep for many. It would require the entire European continent to withdraw to inflict on Blatter the mildest cut.
You only have to go back to February to see how his organisation gets a hold on anyone who might buck the system. The American TV networks Fox and NBC were playing merry hell at that time about the fact that the 2022 Qatar World Cup had been moved to the winter, clashing with the NFL season. It was a dispute that looked destined for the courts, with Fifa being sued by the two companies whose $1bn makes them the biggest contributors to the World Cup purse. And, what do you know? Fox and NBC’s Spanish language Telemundo operation were suddenly awarded broadcast TV rights to the 2026 World Cup, too, without any bidding taking place, and to the raw fury of other American broadcasters. Nothing illegitimate; just evidence of how, with the product which everyone wants, Fifa can head off any storm.
It was, says Richard Welbirg of the TV Sports Market publication, as categorical a piece of evidence as you will find that the threat of a court appearance has the potential to embarrass Fifa and make it act. A good job for football then, that America – a country so often maligned and mocked for its late adoption of the sport – has emerged so spectacularly on its side.
Timeline of controversy: Fifa failings
December 2010 Russia and Qatar awarded the 2018 and 2022 World Cups respectively, days after a BBC exposé of Fifa, claiming Nicolas Leoz, Issa Hayatou and Ricardo Teixeira, who voted in the 2018 and 2022 Cup bids, had taken bribes in the 1990s.
February 2011 Fifa’s ethics committee upheld three-year and one-year bans imposed upon executive committee members Amos Adamu and Reynald Temarii for breaches of Fifa’s code of ethics following newspaper investigations into wrongdoing during the bidding campaigns.
May 2011 Fifa suspends presidential candidate Mohamed Bin Hammam and vice-president Jack Warner pending an investigation into claims they had offered financial incentives to members of the Caribbean Football Union. The Qatar 2022 team deny any wrongdoing.
June 2011 Hammam found guilty of bribery and banned from all international and national football activity for life. Warner escapes investigation after resigning.
July 2012 Fifa commissions report into allegations of corruption in world football.
June 2014 A newspaper reports it has received “millions” of documents revealing Hammam made payments to football officials in return for votes for Qatar.
September 2014 Fifa’s independent ethics investigator Michael Garcia completes his 430-page report into corruption allegations.
November 2014 Hans-Joachim Eckert, chairman of Fifa’s independent ethics committee, publishes a summary of Garcia’s investigation, finding breaches by Russia and Qatar were “of very limited scope”. Fifa lodges criminal complaint with Swiss attorney general over “possible misconduct” by individuals in connection with the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. Garcia calls the summary “incomplete and erroneous” and launches an appeal against it.
December 2014 Garcia loses his appeal and resigns. The US lawyer issues a statement criticising Fifa’s “lack of leadership”, saying he cannot change the culture of the world governing body. Fifa executives agree to publish a “legally appropriate version” of the report, but this has yet to happen.Reuse content