Saving world football from dictators – the US and the FIFA scandal

Saving world football from dictators – the US and the FIFA scandal
By Stefan Grobe
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The corruption charges against the football world-governing body FIFA and the subsequent resignation of its just re-elected president Sepp Blatter have been closely followed by media in the United States.

Some might find this surprising, given that FIFA is based in Switzerland and that football is basically an Olympic sport in the US that most Americans only watch every four years (they even call it differently).

But the charges originated in the US, and it was the New York Times that first broke the story more than a week ago.

Blatter himself has a very simple explanation for the huge American media interest in the case: in an interview with Swiss television over the weekend, he railed against US authorities and English media implying that both were bitter over losing out in the World Cup race.

“No one is going to tell me that it was a simple coincidence, this American attack two days before the elections of FIFA. It doesn’t smell right,” he said.

“The Americans were the candidates for the World Cup of 2022 and they lost. The English were the candidates for 2018 and they lost, so it was really the English media and the American movement.”

Blatter’s feeling was echoed by Russia’s president Vladimir Putin who may have a reason to be angry at the Americans, as the circumstances of the awarding of the 2018 FIFA World Cup to Russia are now coming under renewed scrutiny.

Commenting on the arrest of FIFA officials at the behest of the US Department of Justice, Putin said: “These officers are not United States’ citizens, and if anything did happen, it did not happen on the territory of the United States and the USA has nothing to do with it. This is yet another obvious attempt to spread their jurisdiction to other states.”

In fact, much of the US inquiry has focused on the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football CONCACAF, whose headquarters has been in New York and then Florida – for the entire time period included in the indictment.

In addition, many of the banking institutions and money services allegedly used to funnel illegal payments are located on American soil.

US law gives its courts broad powers to investigate crimes committed by foreigners on foreign soil if money passes through American banks or other activity takes place there.

“All of these defendants abused the US financial system and violated US law, and we intend to hold them accountable,” US Attorney General Loretta Lynch said.

Lynch had earned the reputation of a no-nonsense District Attorney in New York before becoming US Attorney General just a few weeks ago (a post once occupied by mob hunter Robert Kennedy).

Virtually overnight, the African-American woman became a celebrity in the US. Media outlets were in awe of her taking on (and down) Sepp Blatter and corruption at FIFA, one of the most opaque organizations on the planet.

“She could hardly have crafted a more attention-grabbing debut”, wrote Politico magazine.

What Loretta Lynch and her team of investigators have accomplished is nothing less than a successful operation by a US-led coalition – and this operation against FIFA appears to have been markedly better received on the global stage than previous foreign interventions, like those in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Washington Post, which backed the Iraq War, also found cause to support this latest adventure. “The best American foreign policy action taken in 2015,” read the headline on a story on the newspaper’s website.

It is doubtful that the US-led fight against corruption in world football will lead to the game’s higher popularity in a country that cares much more about baseball, basketball and American football.


And yet, US media were quick to rally around the flag and behind Loretta Lynch’s global crusade. According to the Los Angeles Daily News, America’s heroic action should now be properly rewarded:

“Call it ‘spreading democracy,’ call it a liberation, call it a toppling of dictators, call it whatever the heck you want. America just saved football — which the whole world can now start calling ‘soccer,’ thank you very much.”

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