Sepp Blatter, FIFA President was elected to a fifth term on Friday, May 29, despite multiple arrests of FIFA officials on Wednesday, May 27.
By Carmen Glover
It would be an understatement to say that genuine football (soccer to some) purists are extremely unhappy with the recent developments that have tarnished the beautiful game which is beloved by millions across the globe. Yet, the extreme views and reactions that have peppered social media will do nothing to address the deep-seated issues that have bubbled to the top this past week and those that have yet to be tackled.
US Attorney General Loretta Lynch is flanked by officials in a theatrical announcement of action taken to rid FIFA of corruption.
On Wednesday, May 27, the US Justice Department arrested several FIFA officials on charges of corruption, racketeering and accepting more than $150 in bribes to vote for World Cup hosting rights and special access. The FIFA officials did not include FFIA President Sepp Blatter, who has worked with FIFA for more than 40 years and served as president for 17, during a period of increasing corruption. However, the US Justice Department indicated that its investigation has been underway for 20 years. What took the crusading US Justice Department so long, especially since corruption has been synonymous with FIFA since before Blatter’s reign at the organization’s helm?
Announcing the arrests, US Attorney General Loretta Lynch said the actions were taken because the FIFA officials “were entrusted with keeping soccer open and accessible to all, to protect the integrity of the game. Instead, they corrupted the business of worldwide soccer to protect their interests and enrich themselves.” Citing the scope of the investigation she said: “This Department of Justice is determined to end these practices, root out corruption and to bring wrongdoers to justice.”
L-R FIFA officials who were arrested include: Jose Maria Marin, 83 (Brazil); Rafael Esquivel, 68 (Venezuela); Eduardo Li, 56 (Costa Rica); Nicolas Leoz, 86 (Paraguay); Julio Rocha, 64, Nicaragua; Eugenio Figueredo, 83, (Uruguay); Jack Warner, 72, Trinidad and Tobago and Jeffrey Webb, 50 Cayman Islands.
Among those arrested or indicted are: Jack Warner, former FIFA vice president, 72, of Trinidad and Tobago and CONCACAF executive and Jeffrey Webb, 50, a FIFA vice president from the Cayman Islands. US football official Charles Blazer, who formerly served CONCACAF, was profiled in the New York Daily News in November 2014 in an article indicating that he was cooperating with the FBI in hopes of minimizing his sentence as the investigation progressed. Blazer, in conjunction with Warner, was charged with accepting $10 million in bribes to secure World Cup hosting rights for South Africa in 2010.
In response to the US action, Swiss officials have followed suit, initiating its own investigation into FIFA’s practices by raiding FIFA’s headquarters in Zurich. But, despite the dramatic optics, it appears as if very little will change. The 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosting sites will not be moved and, on Friday, May 29, Blatter was re-elected to his fifth term as president of FIFA, with FIFA executives roundly rejecting US interference.
US informant Charles Blazer in happier times with FIFA President Sepp Blatter.
“I am the president, the president of everybody,” a gleeful Blatter crowed after he was re-elected by a margin of 133 to 73, failing to garner the two third majority of the votes required. His challenger, Jordan’s Prince Ali bin al-Hussein, who was supported by the USA and European bloc, withdrew his candidacy at the beginning of the second round of voting, when it became apparent that the solid bloc of voters from Africa and Asia would remain staunchly in Blatter’s corner, much to the chagrin of the USA and the European contingent who were supporting Ali’s presidential bid.
Not one to hold his tongue, Blatter has accused the England and the USA of having a vendetta against FIFA because they lost hosting rights for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments, respectively. Many football lovers who understand the impact of the sport share his view, while at the same time, recognize that FIFA is, in fact, quite corrupt. The issue for many football lovers is that FIFA has become more corrupt during the 17 years that Blatter has been its president, yet Blatter was untouched by the US justice team.
Also, FIFA has invested very heavily in Africa and Asia, even hosting the 2010 World Cup tournament in South Africa, alleged bribery aside, when for years only select, primarily European countries have had that honor. So while on the surface there is recognition that corruption exists within FIFA, the often ignored nations, many of which are in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean, will cautiously support any leader who is perceived to be more inclined to give them a bigger slice of the football pie. And, despite his many flaws, it is not a coincidence that under Blatter’s leadership, FIFA has spotlighted football in developing countries and promoted their expertise in the sport.
The football product in England has been declining in quality for years, and England’s abysmal performance in the 2014 World Cup tournament did nothing to help that country’s reputation, when taken in context with the awful conduct of British fans at football games. The USA, for its part, has been aching for football relevance ever since it began to compete in the beautiful game and with each staging of the World Cup, the USA women continue to outperform the men’s squad.
In Qatar, migrant workers have died at a rate of more than one per day, according to reports, as they prepare for the World Cup.
And it is undoubtedly a bitter pill for such a powerful nation to swallow but football (which the US has re-named soccer to the anger of football purists), is a sport that comes naturally to residents of countries such as Caribbean and African nations, Brazil, England, France, Germany, the Netherlands and countless others. It is the premier sport in those countries, not an extra sport with minimal cultural relevance as it is in the US. For that basic reason, the USA football team is generally viewed internationally with skepticism, despite its wise decision to hire a fine German coach, Jurgen Klinsmann, a distinguished former World Cup football star and World Cup winner.
So when US Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced with much fanfare, the arrests of numerous FIFA executives in Zurich on May 27, as they were convening for FIFA Congress, as well as officials of CONCACAF (of which the US is a member), the actions were viewed with a mixture of joy (US soccer fans), anger and disappointment (traditional football fans).
Members of the Swiss UNIA workers union display red cards and shout slogans during a protest in front of the headquarters of soccer’s international governing body FIFA in Zurich . FIFA’s executive committee met in Zurich on Thursday and Friday, re-electing Sepp Blatter to his fifth term. The world cup will not be moved from Qatar despite the heat. Qatar has also been hit by criticism of its treatment of migrant workers after reports that Nepalese workers have died in recent weeks. The red cards read ‘Red card for FIFA – No World Cup without human rights.’ REUTERS
The reason is simple: Genuine football fans want the game to thrive and continue to be exciting. They also want to root out corruption where it occurs. But, because the US lost the bid to host the 2022 World Cup tournament, the motives of the US Justice Department seem suspect, as if the US is determined to destroy FIFA and the game of football because they did not get what they wanted and what they felt they deserved: the right to host the World Cup.
Do England and the USA have the facilities to host successful World Cup tournaments? Unquestionably they do. Is World Cup Football as popular in the USA as it is in say, a tiny island like Jamaica? Absolutely not! And therein lies the USA dilemma–a country with the money to buy whatever it wants, cannot buy the love for a sport that is second nature to smaller countries.
Football (soccer to some), used to play the beautiful game.
England, with its inferior football product, boorish and racist fans, has lost the luster that it once had as a soccer powerhouse. But while Brazil had an inferior team in the 2014 World Cup, it will always be viewed as a more deserving host site, Brazil is also more representative for the tournament than the US or England because of its dominance in the sport and its rich tradition of wining the most World Cup tournaments while making the game exciting and fun to watch.
The actions taken by the US Justice Department seem high-handed at best, and vindictive at worst. There is no merit to the argument that FIFA is corrupt if the president who has led the organization during its most corrupt years is still in charge, still has the support of a large bloc of his member nations, and, by all appearances, seems to be defiant and untouchable. What has the US Justice Department achieved with the recent arrests except to insert itself into the realm of a sporting hierarchy but leaving the head untouched? For his part, Blatter has pledged pending reforms, but does anyone really believe him?
Migrant workers have died at a rate of at least one per day in Qatar, under horrific conditions.
FIFA World Cup Trophy
As social media exploded with Blatter’s re-election by demanding a boycott of the sport, one thing remained painfully clear: Far too many so-called sports fans lack a basic understanding of World Cup football and all the nuances and machinations involved. Most significantly, there is skepticism that the alleged monetary misconduct perpetuated by FIFA officials ensnared by Lynch and her team trump the hundreds of death by migrant workers who are working in Qatar in preparation for its hosting duties.
The question should be asked: Is the US really comfortable sending the message that arresting FIFA officials takes precedence over taking a leadership role in advocating for the rights of the migrant workers in Qatar who have unwittingly sacrificed their lives to enrich wealthy men? Or is the US blinded by rage that they lost hosting rights and so embarrassing FIFA through arrests and ridicule is all that matters? Only the US knows for sure.–OnPointPress.net.