The U.S. Department of Justice on Wednesday alleged widespread corruption at FIFA, indicting 14 individuals in a broad and ongoing investigation of international soccer’s governing body. The charges range from racketeering to bribery and nine of those indicted are current or former FIFA officials. At a press conference, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said some officials took bribes when determining where major international soccer tournaments would be held, including the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Added IRS chief Richard Weber: “Today we are issuing FIFA a red card.” Also, Swiss authorities launched their own investigation this week into the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
Here, Richardson Professor of Law Roger Abrams, an expert on sports law and labor law, examines the Justice Department’s case and what it could mean for international soccer.
What is the focus of the Justice Department’s investigation against FIFA?
The Justice Department, in cooperation with the Swiss authorities, has alleged widespread corruption on the part of numerous FIFA officials. This action is the latest in a series of alleged misdeeds under the reign of Sepp Blatter, FIFA’s longtime president, including money laundering conspiracy involving bribes, wire fraud, racketeering, kickbacks concerning media deals, and the hosting of the quadrennial World Cups.
Under federal law, the Justice Department has broad power to bring criminal charges against foreign nationals as long as there is a connection to the United States. In addition, some of the people indicted are U.S. citizens.
You noted that FIFA has been plagued by accusations of corruption and other scandals in the past. Why do you think scandal has been linked to international soccer?
Corruption in international soccer is the product of an enormous amount of money combined with the absence of transparency and accountability. Members of the FIFA executive committee and others allegedly solicited multi-million dollar bribes and kickbacks.
What impact will these investigations have on the sport as a whole? Will this truly be a black mark on international soccer, or will fans be unfazed and continue cheering for their teams?
It will take a lot more than a few indictments to shake “the beautiful game.” Soccer is the worldwide equivalent of baseball, football, basketball, and hockey combined. It is possible, albeit unlikely, that Blatter will be dethroned in the FIFA presidential vote this Friday. He was not indicted…yet.