Today’s wide-ranging series of indictments of FIFA officials in Switzerland on racketeering and other charges by the United States Department of Justice has been met with lots of glee and tap-dancing by many in America. This is it! Time for the Dear Leader, Sepp Blatter, to have his graft exposed to the entire world. FIFA and world soccer is finally going to change for the better!
Let’s play Devil’s Advocate for a second and pose this question: would any of this have happened and would American soccer fans, observers and media have the same low opinion of FIFA had it awarded either the 2018 or 2022 World Cups to the United States as opposed to Russia and Qatar?
It’s also worth considering that the U.S. — or specifically CONCACAF — isn’t squeaky clean in this whole affair. The arrests today centered on CONCACAF officials and it appears the bulk of the information came via American Chuck Blazer, who cut a deal himself to try to avoid his own set of racketeering and wire fraud charges. Per the official FBI release, Blazer, the former CONCACAF general secretary and FIFA Executive Committee member, forfeited $1.9 million already as result of the investigation. [If you have time here’s a long read about the eccentric Blazer.]
There are also indictments about television rights in the region via the Brazil-based Traffic Sports.
Try as we might, nobody’s hands are entirely clean when it comes to FIFA. From the sponsors who tacitly agree to the awful, slave-like conditions for stadium workers in Qatar, to the federation executives who signed off on Russia with its less-than-sterling human rights record, to even us as fans and viewers. When push comes to shove we still load up that FIFA cocktail of passion, excitement, drama, etc. and jam it into our veins every four years, too.
As of Wednesday, FIFA says it plans to go forward with both Russia and Qatar. Perhaps the Swiss criminal investigation into the bidding yields enough material to force a change. Bear in mind that Russian natural gas producer Gazprom bears its logo on FIFA letterhead, so let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Betting companies still opened up lines (creating false hope, mainly) that England would be the favorite to host in 2018 and the United States would be in 2022. Would this unlikely scenario redress all wrongs and make the world of international soccer a warm, fuzzy and happy place? Probably not.
Could today’s news be enough to prompt a major player like England or Germany or even the United States to make a stand and break away from the hold of FIFA? Sure that sounds nice but remains unlikely.
Change and FIFA are rarely seen together in the same sentence. Cynicism and world soccer, however, fit together about as nicely as an aged FIFA member snacking on caviar and champagne.
Hopefully today’s FIFA news leads to some reform or at the very least starts the downfall of House Blatter. Odds are whatever plays out, the eyeballs of the world will still be fixated on their screens come June 15, 2018 … wherever the game might be held.