Yves here. Some NC readers are no doubt going to be skeptical of the idea of the US riding in to play cop on FIFA when it won’t take far more consequential corruption, like banks selling toxic securities all over the world, as seriously. But that’s a feature, not a bug.
The FIFA scandal hits a sweet spot for US prosecutors. It’s not a US or US dominated institution. The corruption was the crass and obvious type, taking cash or other valuable inducements for taking specific action that the other party wanted (and it really was that crass in the case of FIFA). By contrast, much of soft corruption that is widespread in the US isn’t criminal, or even seen as much of a moral flaw, such as the revolving door of “sell your office out as a regulator by currying favor with the industry so that you’ll have plenty of job offers when you decide to go back into commerce.” And the sports industry is disproportionately visible relative to its economic importance.
Having said all that, it is nevertheless true that having the US do the cleanup does expose how lax prosecutors were elsewhere, above all in Germany and Switzerland.
By Mathew D. Rose, a freelance journalist in Berlin
Following the arrests of prominent FIFA officials in Zurich, it was interesting to read in the German neo-liberal newspaper Handelsblatt and a prominent leftist blog that the United States was “deeply involved” in FIFA graft and a poor loser with regard to their failed bid for the 2022 World Cup. The implication is that the Americans are hypocrites and childish, so one needs not take this judicial meddling seriously. In the case of the leftist blog this has to do with anti-Americanism. The Handelsblatt is more upset that the US is treading on very lucrative business turf that belongs to the Europeans, mainly the Germans.
Forgotten is the fact that the United States has s tradition of coming down hard on sport corruption. Thanks to Justice Department’s investigation of the Salt Lake City bid for the 2002 Winter Games the International Olympic Committee, which was then just as corrupt as the FIFA today, saw itself forced to ban many members, as well as terminating the reign of its kleptocrat leader, Juan Antonio Samaranch, and introducing some reforms. The United States also had no scruples unmasking American cycling hero Lance Armstrong to expose doping in the sport and the practices of the International Cycling Union, principally a European Affair. Last, but not least, the FIFA investigation commenced at least a year and a half before the US lost its bid for the Football World Cup.
The problem for many European FIFA members is that they are deeply involved in the scam. Yes, there are nations that are not, such as the Scandinavians and to a great extent the British. Two nations that prominently embrace FIFA’s corrupt system are Germany and France.
Altogether the structure of FIFA has been on the old imperialist model: the economically advanced nations run the business earning billions, the third world nations receive bribes worth a few million. Thus the first to be exposed for corruption will be FIFA members from Africa, South America, the Caribbean and Asia – the corrupted, not the corruptors.
The picture we are getting with regard to voting to host the World Cup is that this privilege is purchased with massive bribes. As we are hearing, there was apparently a ten million dollar bribe for the small Central America and Caribbean Football Association from South Africa; a good insight into what sort of money was on offer for votes. There is also the former press spokeswoman for the Qatari bid, Phaedra Almajid, who claims three FIFA executive Committee members each demanded 1.5 million dollars, should Qatar wished to secure their votes. Such sums do not include the perks during the bidding process, which bidders shower upon FIFA officials and their families. It is no wonder that US Attorney General Loretta Lynch accused football’s world governing body of “rampant” corruption spanning more than two decades.
Under this premise it is well worth looking back at past World Cup hosts in the years since Sepp Blatter has been running the show (although under his predecessor Joao Havelange FIFA was probably no less corrupt): 2014 Brazil, 2010 South Africa, 2006 Germany, 2002 South Korea and Japan.
Oddly, in the midst of the current scandal there has been a slow take-up in the European media concerning Germany’s successful bid. It wasn’t as if the decision to award the Germans the right to host the tournament was not tinged with scandal. The delegate for Oceania in the Executive Committee, Charlie Dempsey, simply disappeared from the room as the final vote between Germany and South Africa was to take place and caught the next plane back to New Zealand. His abstention, rather than supporting South Africa, which his federation had instructed him to do, enabled Germany to win the right to host the tournament. The journalist Andrew Jennings, whose pertinacious reporting over decades is responsible for the current FIFA scandal and the IOC’s before it, claims Dempsey’s decision was influenced by a bribe.
It was later discovered that payments from Germany were offered shortly before the crucial vote to federations of three executive committee members: Tunisia, Malta and Thailand. On offer were “friendly” games with Germany’s most famous football club Bayern Munich, whose president at that time was German football celebrity Franz Beckenbauer, simultaneously head of Germany’s World Cup bid. German media magnate Leo Kirch, who had purchased the rights to broadcast the 2006 World Cup, knew these would be more valuable if played in Germany. Via one on his companies in Switzerland, that renowned haven of transparency, Kirch offered the three federations a generous remuneration for the rights to televise the friendlies. Malta and Thailand voted for Germany.
The last thing the Germans wish is to know is the truth concerning the World Cup 2006, which they fondly refer to as the “Summer Fairytale”. Thus the case will now be into safe hands: the public prosecutor. German public prosecutors are not there to prosecute high profile cases, but to defuse them (see the recent trials of Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone and the president of football club FC Bayern Munich, Uli Hoeneß). Too big to jail is the rule in Germany. It would be revolutionary should anything become of any investigation, not to mention that German businessmen have been among the majpr players in FIFA’s business side.
Germans have led the way in corrupting world football. It was Horst Dassler of Adidas who in the mid-seventies got the ball rolling. His former partner, Patrick Nally, summed up Dassler’s business strategy in a single sentence: “From the outset and thereafter Horst purchased people.” Despite Dassler’s death in 1987, this practice seems to have burgeoned in FIFA. Blatter, like Havelange and Samaranch before him, was Dassler’s creation. Germans, like Beckenbauer, who was an early business partner of Dassler, have remained significantly involved in the business.
Beckenbauer has been an adamant supporter of Blatter and FIFA. Following Blatter’s re-election last week Beckenbauer was quoted in the German media: „Blatter is without a doubt an outstanding personality, who is greatly respected throughout the world”. Approximately a year ago, as reports surfaced that Qatar was using slave labour on some of its World Cup venues Beckenbauer claimed that he had been in Qatar and had seen no workers in chains.
It was no coincidence that in 2012 Blatter took on a German judge, Hans-Joachim Eckert, as chairman of the Ethics Committee’s adjudication chamber as pressure built concerning FIFA’s endemic corruption. Eckert blocked the publication of the ensuing Garcia Report concerning irregularities of the Russian and Qatar bids, citing legal reasons. He did provide a summary exonerating both countries of any wrongdoing, however critical of the other bidders. Eckert’s report purportedly made the identification of Ms Almajid and another witness as whistle-blowers possible. Garcia resigned; Eckert is still collecting his FIFA salary. This sort of thing, which might be expected of a judge from North Korea, Ukraine or Zimbabwe, gives a good insight into the obsequiousness of German judges to money and power, something that plagues the German justice system.
A further man to watch is former French football star and current president of the European Football Federation UEFA, Michel Platini. In 2008 he voted for Qatar and a few weeks later his son was named the European manager of Katar Sports Investment.
Thus there is little in the way of cleaning up FIFA to be expected from UEFA or in Europe for that matter. There is simply too much personal interest and money in this. Yes, they will now turn on Blatter and some of the more corrupt Third World FIFA members, with the aim of using the opportunity to get their own placemen into key positions. Their goal is not to make FIFA a better organisation, but to make it more their organisation.
Switzerland’s justice system finds itself in a rather embarrassing position. The authorities have known for decades about FIFA’s illicit practices – its been repeatedly in the world headlines – and ignored it, just as they have done concerning the activities of their banks and their customers, which probably includes every demonic figure of the past 100 years. Maybe in this case they will not want to be seen as the twats of Europe in comparison to the US authorities, but that could well be what they are generously remunerated for. Thus the US justice system is probably the only hope of countless football fans around the world to clean the augean stall called FIFA – better yet, get rid of it.