By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON, DC (Feb 17, 2016) US Soccer Players – If you ever needed convincing about the power of FIFA to delude those who rise to positions of influence within its noxious ranks, look no further than the events currently unfolding across the world. Even as the United States Department of Justice is reeling in name after name connected to rampant corruption and graft in the world’s game, those remaining relatively unstained (or untouchable) go about the business of returning the organization to business as usual.
You almost can’t blame them. They’ve become used to a certain way of life. What’s a few indictments when there’s so much fleecing to do? This game, the world’s most popular past time, is a nearly inexhaustible financial resource that has filled the coffers of its organizing body to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars. What’s the problem if a few million goes missing here or there? In certain places, they call that opportunism, not theft. The men who worked their way to the top of soccer’s hierarchy can justify their rewards. At least to themselves and the cadre of hangers-on who benefit from their largesse.
There’s a barrel laughs in the fact that FIFA wants to paint the scandal as a Confederation-level issue. It’s the regional organizations that are dirty and corrupt, not the beneficent charitable group occupying their palatial digs in Zurich. Okay, sure. The confederations certainly do represent a certain type of blissful depravity.
CONCACAF, the confederation that gave rise to the dynamically dirty duo of Jack Warner and Chuck Blazer, has been unable to find a president who could stay out of United States attorney general Loretta Lynch’s crosshairs for long enough to actually do anything on the job. Jeffrey Webb won election as a reformer only to join the list of CONCACAF presidents indicted by the Department of Justice. Webb already pled guilty, using ill-gotten money to upgrade his palatial Georgia home and was brazen enough to hold a casino-themed birthday party for this wife that family and friends deem appropriate to photograph for social media. Things might be out of control.
The adults in the room, namely the lawyers representing CONCACAF in the middle of the greatest crisis that has ever faced the organization, are warning the group’s remaining unindicted leaders that it’s time to actually fix things. For real this time. Lip service won’t do, because if CONCACAF does not enact sweeping reforms that fundamentally improve the level of transparency, there’s a real chance the organization could end up disbanded.
Think about that for a second. One of FIFA’s confederations, representing 41 member associations including the United States, may find itself dissolved because it’s so rotten there is no salvaging it in its current form. Rotten to its core.
From the Reuters article: “Without reform CONCACAF risks – criminal convictions or deferred/non prosecution agreement; disbanding CONCACAF as an organization, freezing of accounts and/or forfeiture of CONCACAF assets; U.S government imposing a Monitor to closely regulate CONCACAF compliance with anti-corruption laws for up to five years or more.”
It wouldn’t be wrong to lay all of it at the feet of American soccer. Blazer’s role in turning CONCACAF and FIFA (and by extension, every other FIFA-affiliated group) into well-insulated cash machines for the administrators of world soccer is well-documented, most recently in an exposé published by ESPN the Magazine on Tuesday. The story rehashes and adds to the tale of how Blazer took advantage of an immature marketing environment and used his ruthlessness to climb to the top of the FIFA food chain. Blazer, around the same time Sepp Blatter and his mentor, Joao Havelange, were shifting FIFA into the world of corporate partnerships and power consolidated through gift and graft, identified soccer as a wholly unregulated world ripe for exploitation.
Fast forward to the present day, with Blazer now the government’s star witness against his former FIFA compatriots. The one-time grassroots organizer of youth soccer in the suburbs of New York stands at the center of a sting that threatens to bring down the constructs that once enabled him to live in the lap of luxury, mostly unbothered, in one of the most expensive cities in the world.
Even with Blazer informing on their misdeeds, even with investigators and journalists watching their every move, the soccer men of CONCACAF seem unmoved. Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl reports that at an event for FIFA presidential candidates to make their cases to the voters of CONCACAF (one nation, one vote, remember), CONCACAF officials made jokes about ethics. Back in 2011, with Jack Warner still in charge, Muhammed bin Hammam of Qatar handed out bags of cash in a bid to garner votes. The subsequent investigation ended with both bin Hammam and Warner banned from FIFA.
Many of the people who took the bin Hammam party favor are still in charge of their local federations in places like the Dominican Republic and Antigua and Barbuda. It’s no surprise that they are not entirely convinced about the need for reform.
Canadian Soccer Association president Victor Montagliani is among those running for CONCACAF president in an election coming up on May 12 in Mexico City. Montagliani sees himself as the leading reform candidate in the region, and is counting on the backing of the United States and Mexico in the race.
Maybe he has a shot. Maybe CONCACAF will vote to institute the reforms demanded by their lawyers when the package comes up on February 25. Maybe the collected nations of the Caribbean and Central America see the need to change the way soccer is run, lest the whole thing come crashing down.
But would anyone be surprised if they don’t?
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