Mathew D. Rose: Why the US Will Have to Clean FIFA’s Augean Stall

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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.

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  1. jrs

    So how many slaves and guest workers will die building stadiums and other infrastructure? But then the U.S. can’t take a moral stance on the slavery aspect of course (instead it needs to hurry up and pass Fast Track, oh and slip back in that pro-slavery provision to it….), so they best stick with prosecuting the corruption.

    Qatar denies workers are dying, but who would believe them over anyone claiming to speak for workers? It doesn’t help that deep down we all suspect that workers dying for a sports game, because they have no other support, is little more than the reduction to absurdity of our own neoliberal system. Those construction companies are based all over the world afterall! Global jawbs and groath, and thousands of people dying for sports events. Boycott soccer. Overthrow the system instead.

    1. Larry

      This is an excellent point. If the U.S. was serious about ending corruption and human suffering, we would at the very least announce that we’re boycotting the World Cup in Qatar. And we would muscle other nations into doing the same.

  2. loustic

    Is it possible to write a serious article about corruption (and doping) in sports today without a word about the crassless “just do it” people?

  3. Larry

    I completely agree with Yves opening statement and the article itself. Though I must admit I was surprised nobody mentioned who is hosting the next World Cup. It’s the next international event to be held by Putin in Russia, and news reports are suggesting that the Russians might lose the next World Cup due in 2018:

    What a convenient time for the U.S. Justice Department to finally get interested in FIFA corruption. has been covering how corrupt FIFA is, but now that the chance to ruin Russia’s ability to host the event are at hand, Justice swoops into action. This is definitely another action in the punish Putin as much as possible war.

    1. ohmyheck

      Ding, ding, ding! We have a winnah! There are already reports that Russia will lose its hosting of the World Cup. The Neocons must be crowing with glee.
      It doesn’t seem the least bit fishy that the reporters just happened to be standing right outside while the perps were frogged-marched out, the day before their big meeting? Really? Not to mention the timing of the arrest? Come on…
      The whole thing stinks to high heaven.

  4. Zoran

    According to the US Supreme Court — and, thus, the entire US legal system — money is speech.

    Given that, the prosecution of FIFA officials is clearly an attempt to create a chilling effect that will deny the right to free speech of the various individuals and groups who gave the FIFA officials money which, we must remember, is just a another form of speech. As such, the US prosecutors are in violation of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which the US is not only a signatory, but one of the key architects and drafters.

    Further, the First Amendment to the US Constitution clearly states Congress shall make no law (…) abridging the freedom of speech, so whatever statutes the US Prosecutors are using to charge the FIFA officials are clearly unconstitutional, since they do abridge freedom of speech in the form of money.

    Or are we dealing with another form of American Exceptionalism, where money is speech only when it’s used to benefit American politicians?

  5. cnchal

    I wonder . . . are the bribes paid with before or after tax money?

    Do the lucky and corrupt FIFA officials on the receiving end of these bribes declare this as income or capital gain or forget about it on their income tax statements?

    Can the bribe payers deduct their bribes from income, similar to a deductible business expense?

    The timing of this scandal, coming out weeks after a new Attorney General was appointed reeks of corruption itself. Why not a year ago?

    Besides, if you are going to talk about corruption in sports, how about the bribery and corruption involved in building sports stadiums with taxpayer subsidies so millionaire players have a playing field, and billionaire team owners have a taxpayer subsidized plaything and bragging megaphone.

  6. Jim Haygood

    ‘Thus the US justice system is probably the only hope of countless football fans around the world to clean the augean stall called FIFA.’

    Find the false premises. One could start with: (1) the presumption that ‘a system of pleas not trials’ (per Anthony Kennedy) has anything to do with justice; (2) the notion that extraterritorial application of U.S. law should be done, simply because it CAN be done; (3) the principal that the state should be the sponsor and beneficiary of sport.

    European sport is corrupt by US standards, but so is the NCAA. Imagine Europe kidnapping and renditioning the NCAA leadership to face trial under French law, with the benefit of interpreters to explain the unfamiliar, juryless proceedings to them. Turnabout is fair play!

    1. vlade

      I believe it’s only a matter of time before China starts playing extraterritorial games with its laws and will point to the US as a prime example if anyone complains.

  7. Joaquin Closet

    Switzerland taking action and/or monitoring FIFA’s practices is akin to Europe and any other major problem it faces: immigration, banking/finance, “fighting” terrorism, etc. Many countries don’t do anything; some give these issues lip service. And as long as we have American politicians who think it’s America’s duty to patrol the world as the preeminent “global cop,” situations such as the current FIFA debacle will continue to be in our self-proclaimed baliwick.

  8. washunate

    This piece fits in great with the geopolitical conversation. One of the unfortunate developments of the U.S. Leadership class totally pissing off the rest of the world is that we have lost all credibility as an actual leader. Corruption is actually one of those areas where the American vision that handing out suitcases of cash is wrong is different than pretty much everywhere else on the planet where bribery is more a cost of doing business.

    With no moral authority, there is absolutely no reason anyone would model our behavior, even if we are right. And of course, we don’t even believe this ourself anymore. Wads of cash drive foreign policy at the margins (which is why it is hilarious when people talk about the cashless society – the national security state would never allow all those FRNs outside the US to become void.)

    Because of course the reason this is happening is to target Russia and perhaps keep Qatar in line, not because we found religion on corruption. We didn’t even arrest the President of FIFA. And of course to distract from other U.S. Policy, like the Patriot act extension and fast track.

  9. John Mc

    Well, the US may have some incentive to clean up outside corruption, but the Lance Armstrong, Samaranch (IOC 2002) is not really much proof of above board practices. We tend to forget:

    1. The NCAA

    2. Steroids in Baseball (caught) –

    3. NFL — too many issues, too little time (murder, concussions, cheating, rape, brain injury) –

    4. Little league baseball cheating scandals

    5. College Football & Basketball Program violations – (decades of fraud)

    And I am sure we all could continue adding to the list — Michael Callaghan describes this effectively as our cheating culture –

  10. RUKidding

    Yes, of course, FIFA has an Augean stable, but Cui Bono from this action on the part of the US DOJ?? LIke the DOJ has nothing better to do?

    Oh: face to palm! Loretta Lynch, Pres Obama’s latest wunderkind, who at least witnessed, if not participated in/endorsed/whatever, criminal money laundering, running drugs, guns & humans, during her last stint at HSBC, is riding in to the rescue of world football fans – yeah, ya know, here in the USA we are the ONLY ONES to call it soccer. I digress.

    Cui Bono?

    And why are MY tax dollar$ being spent on this ridiculous fakey law suit? Oh yeah, so that Team USA can bedevil that devil Putin and put the strong arm on Qatar.

    Yeah, right. Jamie Dimon just passed the billionaire finish line, but sorry, Jamie: you’re not a squillionaire yet, so I guess you’ll engage in various other, cough cough, activities to bump up your paltry portfolio, but LOOK OVER THERE!!! At FIFA!!!!

    What a waste. I could care less. Let’s go after the local big wigs in my little town who are presently ripping me off for a new basketball arena, which is meant to create jawbs and graof and stuff.

    FIFA? meh… Loretta Lynch is already a crook. Who’s gonna clean up her Augean stable?

  11. DJG

    DOJ was probably reading Dave Zirin, Brazil’s Dance with the Devil: The World Cup, the Olympics, and the Fight for Democracy, and you may want to as well. An eye-opening book. A wonderful discussion of the culture of soccer in Brazil, but then he launches into several chapters about FIFA and the Olympics, all dripping with corruption. So I don’t find the indictments to be a surprise, but I do find DOJ’s involvement to be grandstanding.

  12. Sarah from TX

    “much of soft corruption that is widespread in the US isn’t criminal…the sports industry is disproportionately visible relative to its economic importance”

    In order to make sure the public remains docile on the issues of soft corruption, from which so many economic elites benefit, every once in a while the ruling class sees fit to strongly and publicly go after a few perpetrators of hard, obvious, and crass corruption, as in the case of FIFA. In such cases politicans must choose an arena of “disproportionate visibility”, as Yves put it, to avoid pissing off those who butter their bread most come election time. The same phenomenon can probably explain Congresscritters’ interest in steroid use in Major League Baseball; it’s not that there wasn’t rot of much greater import going on in the world in 2005, but it was much easier politically to go after some naughty sportsmen than to tackle, say, misbehavior by military contractors in Iraq or the rising stink coming from the subprime-lending industry.

  13. John Mc

    If I was Varoufakis, I would ask for the 2018 World Cup to be held in Greece and to have the German/French capitalists fund infrastructure projects that could only pay Greece citizens — and the Greeks get to keep the proceeds…. not one penny goes to FIFA.

  14. Irrational

    That Europe sits on its hands and wait for the US to move on this is absolutely shameful. The allegations have been known for long.
    Having said that, the vast majority of professional sports seem to involve doping, corruption etc – some just haven’t been found out yet! No need to turn on the TV for those guys (m/f).

  15. felix

    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.

    No, it is not. There are billions of football, call it soccer if you want, fans in the wide world and the last thing we need is to have the zombie of John Wayne brought back from the grave to impart his particular brand of Justice where his services were not asked for and where are not needed. Being myself from South America, from one of the little countries that has been eternally pushed around, bullied and swindled by the Brazilian and Argentinian big boys I couldn`t agree more with the rest of the article. FIFA has worked up to now as a global mafia that badly needs some housecleaning but that has to come from inside it, from the collective will and pressure of the many of us and not from the unwanted intrusion of some Johnny Come Lately who has appointed himself the sheriff of the world and of FIFA. In any case, people in the US don`t like football, even less those in government so why should we let into our china shop that needs some dusting a construction guy with a sledgehammer who doesn`t even like china?

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