Did the FBI scored an own goal when it descended on FIFA with a ton of bricks, getting the Swiss police to burst into the rooms of FIFA officials at the Baur au Lac hotel, in Zurich, at dawn on 27 May 2015, to arrest seven FIFA officials?
Why an “own goal”? You ask.
An “own goal” because the “match” should not have been just between the FBI and some officials of FIFA. Everyone knows that FIFA is a fiefdom under the regal tutelage of a man called Sepp Blatter. If you are going to clean up FIFA and you leave out Blatter, you have achieved nothing. It’s like, as the Ghanaian aphorism has it, “killing a snake without cutting off its head.”
You see, before becoming president of FIFA in 1998, in succession to Joao Havelange, Blatter had been general secretary of the organisation for seventeen years. Which means that at the time the FBI struck, Blatter had been both Number One and Number Two at FIFA HQ for a total of thirty-four years. In fact, the secretaries-general in some organisations are more powerful than their presidents, so a president who had been secretary-general before his elevation can be expected to be a really big “boss”. That is why striking below Blatter is, on the face if it, a cosmetic exercise.
But do we know everything? The FBI may be so clever that although it knows it has got Blatter hooked, it does not want to draw him into the boat yet. It may want to see how Blatter acts when he is scared; find out how he will try to cover the traces of any transactions he had carried out that could be classified as corrupt deals.
But even so, the FBI may still have scored an own goal. For FIFA is an international organisation, and on the international scene, organisations like to assert their independence. And there is a disease called “anti-Great Power hysteria” that can strike at any time. For instance, every now and then, a very well-drafted resolution on some aspect of international affairs is negated at the United Nations. Usually, this means that one or other of the Great Powers had rustled the feathers of the rest of the membership.
Now, doctors will tell you that when “hysteria” strikes, there is very little skilled physicians can do about it. For sometimes, it is not an illness in the sense that you call a stomach-ache or a head-ache an illness, but an illness induced by a psychological condition!
So, if the FBI had calculated that hitting at the soft “underbelly” of Blatter would lead to the FIFA Congress rejecting his bid to be re-elected to a fourth term of the FIFA presidency, it calculated wrong. The Congress reared up and said, “Who does the United States think it is? We cannot be manipulated to chuck our President!” And Blatter stayed!
Indeed, Blatter himself seemed shaken by his re-election. Certainly, his speech of acceptance was almost juvenile – or rather, senile.
The London Guardian newspaper explains the loyalty shown to Blatter in this manner: “Blatter has sought to increase the influence of African and Asian countries in world football, through the expansion of participating teams in various FIFA tournaments”.
This is true. There was a time when Africa was not even regarded as worthy of one place in the World Cup, but had to compete for a place with Asia and a “continent” weirdly created specifically for that purpose, called “Oceania” (Australia, New Zealand and some of the islands under their influence)!
In reaction to FIFA’s “condescending” attitude towards them, the African nations boycotted the qualifying rounds of the 1966 World Cup, in protest against being offered only one qualifying place, together with “Asia and Oceania.”
Blatter has overseen a vast expansion of African and Asian representation as well as the provision of grants to develop football, culminating in the award of the 2010 World Cup tournament to South Africa, as the first-ever African host of the tournament.
Even though South Africa’s selection as host of the 2010 World Cup tournament now seems to have been tainted with corruption, few Africans can forget the sheer elation the “vuvuzela” tournament brought to the continent.
But I said that Blatter too has scored an own goal. Why did I say that?
Fourteen people face trial – as a result of their connection to your organisation – charged with such offences as corruption, fraud, racketeering and money-laundering, and you can pretend that it has nothing to do with you? Where were you when those offences were being committed, if you were not part of the ring of corrupt officials? You have spent 34 years in the two most powerful positions in an organisation, and you do not know what goes on in it? And yet you won’t accept responsibility for its failures and resign?
Ominously for Blatter, one of the arrested people has been “co-operating” with the FBI, in the hope that he will be treated with leniency. He is Chuck Blazer, an American who had risen near to the top of Fifa, and who, by 2011, was living what is described as the “high life” in two apartments above Fifa’s regional office in New York. Others may follow his example and eventually, the excrement may hit the fan.
The detailed indictment against Blazer himself revealed that the FBI and the Internal Revenue Service of the US had assembled specific allegations of his involvement in bribes related to the selection of World Cup host countries, going back to the early 1990s.
The two adult children of Jack Warner, a former Fifa regional president and a Trinidad and Tobago politician, also charged — Daryan and Daryll Warner — have both pleaded guilty to a variety of fraud and money laundering charges. They are alleged to have processed $600,000 in cash from alleged FIFA bribes, picked up in the US banking system by investigators.
Others arrested are:
JEFFREY WEBB, who rose to prominence in the Cayman Islands Football Association before being elected as president of CONCACAF (the North, Central America and Caribbean football confederation) in 2012. Webb was also a FIFA Vice-President. Blatter appointed him Chairman of the FIFA anti-discrimination task force in March 2013.
JACK WARNER, who has been linked with a number of high profile controversies over the last decade. He is alleged to have been involved in England’s failed bid for the 2006 World Cup, as well as a scandal over bonuses awarded to the Trinidad and Tobago team at the 2006 tournament. He has denied any wrong doing but has been arrested in Trinidad.
EUGENIO FIGUEREDO, a former soccer player, was in charge at the Uruguayan Football Association between 1997 to 2006.
EDUARDO LI SANCHEZ, president of the Costa Rican football federation, was due to join the FIFA executive committee last week.
JULIO ROCHA LOPEZ, who was president of the Nicaraguan Football Federation until 2012. He has been with Fifa in an official capacity since January 2013.
RAFAEL ESQUIVEL MELO, president of the Venezuelan Football Federation (FVF) since 1988.
COSTAS TAKKAS, former general secretary of the Cayman Islands Football Association.
JOSE MARIA MARIN, a former member of the FIFA executive committee. Was president of then Brazilian Football Confederation between 2013 and 2015.
NICOLAS LEOZ, president of CONMEBOL [The South American Football Confederation} from 1986 until 2013. He is alleged to have been involved in bribes relating to the awarding of World Cup TV rights during the 1990s.
ALEJANDRO BURZACO, Chief Executive Officer of Torneos y Competencias, an Argentine TV company that operates a domestic pay TV channel, as well as two international pay TV channels. It owns the rights to broadcast the Argentine Primera Division, the second-tier Primera B Nacional and CONMEBOL World Cup qualifiers. In 2006, it bought the rights to show the World Cup tournament held in Germany.
HUGO JINKIS, president of Full Play International TV S.A., a sports marketing company based in Argentina.
MARIANO JINKIS, Hugo’s son and vice-president of Full Play International TV.
AARON DAVIDSON, president of Traffic Sports, a group with several remits within sport, including partnerships, marketing and media rights. It also owns three football clubs and has several other official club partners, including Brazilian teams Palmeiras, Gremio, Fluminense and Atletico Mineiro, and Manchester United.
Blatter has not been charged in any of the current indictments and has denied that he was avoiding travelling to the United States for fear of arrest, but reports say he has not entered the country since 2011. But everyone is watching to see whether he can wriggle out of the mess altogether.