Soccer fans in favor of a corruption-free sport with transparency, fairness, and all the things we have generally come to expect from humane governing bodies have finally gotten the day that they have waited for.
According to numerous reports, 14 high-ranking soccer and FIFA officials were arrested early morning Wednesday morning in Switzerland, indicted on charges of racketeering, wire fraud, and money laundering, with FBI reports suggesting that the charges span a 20-year period of FIFA corruption. U.S. investigators have reportedly conducted surveillance related to these charges for years, with officials from a variety of countries utilizing U.S. resources and financial institutions to conduct their illegal monetary activities.
Among those indicted are Jeffrey Webb and Jack Warner, the current and former presidents of CONCACAF, the governing body of North America, Central America, and the Caribbean with regards to soccer. Allegedly, Warner and Webb combined to conduct hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes, related to the Copa America Centenario, set to take place in the United States in 2016, as well as numerous other high profile tournaments.
While both men have claimed innocence with regards to these charges, DOJ officials maintained in their press conference this morning that the FBI, IRS, and other investigative institutions have reams of documents detailing not only the bribes that these officials took and doled out, but the manner in which the payments were covered up. Jack Warner, lauded for taking the CONCACAF presidency at no salary, reportedly took nearly $10 million in bribes during his tenure at the head of the governing body.
While the United States has led these investigations, they have worked closely with Swiss authorities, who ultimately made the early morning arrests at a five star hotel in Zurich. While extradition from Switzerland has been a historically difficult task, the public nature of these corruption charges will likely force the 14 indicted FIFA officials back to the United States, where they will have their day in court. According to DOJ officials in their press conference, officials will be charged with over 40 counts of corruption, with nine of the 11 cases in question related to soccer marketing schemes.
Incidentally, the man at the head of FIFA, Sepp Blatter, was not indicted in any of these investigations, and remains in Switzerland at the forefront of soccer’s governing body. DOJ representatives, including Attorney General Loretta Lynch refused to comment on Blatter’s status, but maintained that the investigations are ongoing, and that today is the beginning of bringing FIFA to justice, not the end. Blatter will seek reelection on Friday, and many suspect he will win, though these indictments add to the lofty pile of human rights violations related to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups that make Blatter a villain to much of the global soccer community.
The investigative work of the U.S. DOJ has brought FIFA corruption to the forefront of the world stage, and while many global soccer icons have complained for years about the governing body’s corruption, these indictments finally give the world a substantial case. While the United States is hardly thought of as a face of world soccer, they may be the nation to bring an extremely corrupt organization to justice, and serve as a catalyst for cleaning up the global game. While these charges represent an important step in cleansing FIFA of corruption, as Loretta Lynch said in the press conference today, it is just the beginning. The beginning of the United States leading the charge as a new face of cleaning up world soccer.