Respect: How the US Led the World by Taking on FIFA Greed
Was this the week that the United States finally imposed its will on world football?
It’s not like the traditional soccer superpowers in Europe and South America didn’t know something was rotten in the heart of FIFA. The media has reported detailed, eyewitness instances of bribery and corruption for years.
Did anyone anywhere really believe decisions to hold the next two World Cups in a homophobic country bankrolling civil war in a neighboring nation and a footballing minnow where it’s as hot as hell to play in the summer was really on the up and up?
It’s not like we weren’t informed.
A former colleague of mine, Patrick Collins, recently retired but one of the best UK sports columnists of this or any time, was told by the leader of the failed English bid for the 2018 World Cup that of the 24 voting members of the FIFA committee making the decision “at least 13 are buyable.”
For months, Collins honored the “off-the-record” agreement on which the January 2010 conversation was based knowing full well that by writing about the incident he would effectively be wrecking the (pounds) 15 million English bid to host the tournament.
When England inevitably lost that December, Collins broke the confidence, furious that the delegation had sought to play along with the deeply corrupt regime rather than expose it or, at the very least, distance itself from the institutionalized bribery.
“And the real sadness is that the bid was terrific,” Collins wrote in the Mail on Sunday newspaper. “By every conceivable measure, England had earned the right to stage the tournament. Forget all other considerations; this is the land where football was born and where it is most dearly cherished. This is the country which would have done it justice.
“It was never given the chance. Instead, we had Vladimir Putin lecturing us on press freedom, an experience bizarre beyond satire. We had David Beckham speaking eloquently and poignantly in a cause long since lost.
“We had apparently experienced canvassers throwing up their hands in naive alarm when they discovered that Jack Warner, of Trinidad, was deeply duplicitous. And, even worse than the selection of mob-run Russia, we had Qatar chosen as hosts for 2022. Qatar: it is like playing a Test series in Dodge City.”
Collins was by no means alone in his condemnation of FIFA and, particularly, in its now embattled president Sepp Blatter. In that same year, BBC’s Panorama and the Sunday Times ran devastating investigations revealing the skullduggery going on behind the scenes.
Still nothing was done.
Blatter retained his job at the helm of the laughably termed “non-profit” despite an apparently never-ending stream of offensive remarks. He suggested women playing in “tighter shorts” to drum up more attention for the female game, for goodness sake!
It took the United States, a country that still considers the real football to be played with a ball shaped like an egg and more likely to focus its back pages on baseball and basketball to finally take action.
Sure, the Swiss authorities are now talking about their inquiry and the English Football Association is pushing Blatter to quit. There will, no doubt, be investigations being launched all over the place and football organizations falling over themselves to distance themselves from the stench of greed.
But the US had the balls to do something about it.
US Attorney Loretta Lynch argued that the suspects planned their crimes here, used the American banking system to pay bribes and "planned to profit from their scheme in large part through promotional efforts directed at the growing U.S. market for soccer."
As an example, she said $110 million in bribes changed hands in bringing Copa America, a soccer tournament usually held in South America, to the United States in 2016.
All this may be true but this corruption has been going on for a long time and much of it has involved the established soccer nations. All they did was suck up to Blatter and his henchmen as they sucked the sport dry.
FIFA’s biggest mistake may have been to ask an American to look into the head-scratching choices of Russia and Qatar as World Cup hosts.
Michael Garcia, a one-time US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, spent 18 months looking at the bids and wrote an excoriating 350-page report that was subsequently suppressed and cut to 42-pages.
But when FIFA cleared itself last year, as it always intended to do, Garcia didn’t take it lying down. He quit and labeled FIFA’s findings on his report “incomplete and erroneous.”
By then, the US probe into FIFA’s activities was already well under way.
The map of the world changed forever when the United States finally joined the war against Hitler following Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. The US eventually took its place at the head of the superpowers table and adopted the burden of policing the bad guys.
There is no real comparison. This is just a game, but a game that has become tainted by dictatorial greed and bullying nonetheless and I suspect America’s action this week in knocking FIFA’s emperors from their arrogant perches may yet culminate in a power change in world football.
The cheating cronies have had their day and a new broom is sweeping through a new era. By taking on FIFA, the US authorities have won what Major League Soccer has failed to do despite all its millions spent on over-the-hill superstars and bigger, custom-built stadiums.
It has won the respect and admiration of the football world.
And it may yet play a crucial, leadership role in the future of the game.