Sunday, May 31, 2015

Red Card

Well, Loretta Lynch certainly hit the ground running as Attorney General of the United States. This past week she announced charges of corruption against nine members of the International Federation of Association Football - or FIFA, the international governing body of soccer, and five corporate executives involving, among other things, racketeering, wire fraud, receiving bribes to  award media and  marketing rights to soccer tournaments, and receiving bribes to influence the decision of  the locations for World Cup tournaments, including the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and the future Cup tournaments for 2018 (Russia) and 2022 (Qatar).  Authorities in Switzerland arrested seven FIFA members for possible extradition to the United States.  Sepp Blatter, the  four-term FIFA president seeking re-election by the organization this past week, almost had the election delayed on him and his own bid for a fifth term derailed.  Inexplicably (unless you realize just how corrupt FIFA is), he was re-elected. 
"The indictment alleges corruption that is rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted both abroad and here in the United States," Ms. Lynch said on Wednesday, when the indictments were handed down.  "It spans at least two generations of soccer officials who, as alleged, have abused their positions of trust to acquire millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks.  And it has profoundly harmed a multitude of victims, from the youth leagues and developing countries that should benefit from the revenue generated by the commercial rights these organizations hold, to the fans at home and throughout the world whose support for the game makes those rights valuable.''
The Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football, or CONCACAF, is a key focal point of the indictments, as that body includes the United States and Canada in its jurisdiction.  The indictment alleges that there were bribes involving media and marketing around CONCACAF's World Cup qualifying games, such as the Gold Cup, the CONCACAF Champions League, and the Copa Libertadores.  Mistreatment of foreign workers helping the super-rich Qataris (whose Connecticut-sized desert country is populated overwhelmingly by such "guest workers," actual citizens numbering only about 278,000 in a country of 2.1 million) prepare for the 2022 Cup has only made this scandal more troubling for everyone who loves soccer . . . that is, most of the planet.

The focus on CONCACAF (whose acronym sounds like a French oil consortium) can't be good for soccer in North America, where the long-struggling but determined Major League Soccer organization is finally getting taken seriously.  It makes it more difficult for the sport to gain traction among the major team sports leagues in the U.S. and Canada and to cultivate more fans and players.  If soccer is going to continue growing in both countries, it's going to have to do so in an environment not plagued by corruption.  Seth Myers joked after the 2014 World Cup that soccer in America was once again something you drive your kids to.  That might not be a bad thing.       

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