US and Swiss officials bust FIFA: what does it all mean?

Today’s arrests are just the beginning. Is it the end of FIFA as we know it?

I read the news today. Oh boy.

It’s early and I’m still processing the stories, trying to a) understand the scope of the actions against the congenitally corrupt leadership of football’s governing body, and b) read between the lines so I can anticipate what comes next.

Here are some stray thoughts.

1. FIFA president Sepp Blatter hasn’t been arrested. Yet. The miracle of this morning’s coverage is that none of the official statements surrounding the arrests and Blatter’s status have used that word: yet. Don’t be fooled. The feds don’t raid a crime family without having an eye on the don, and make no mistake, this is all about busting up the Blatter Crime Family.

But wait:

Swiss prosecutors, in a related announcement, said they had opened criminal proceedings against unidentified individuals on suspicion of mismanagement and money laundering related to the awarding of rights to host the 2018 World Cup in Russia and the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

“Unidentified officials.” Hmmm. Who could that refer to, I wonder?

My best guess is that what we’re seeing this morning is merely the opening volley. Bet the farm that US officials are going to be very helpful to their Swiss colleagues. Also, authorities now have in custody several men who a) perhaps know things that investigators might find interesting, and b) have no interest in going to prison. Can’t say yet, but if I’m Sepp I’d hate to be in a position where my freedom hinged on the loyalty of this pack of thugs.

2. The timing is interesting. FIFA leadership is gathered in Switzerland to hold its pro forma reelection of Blatter, which means authorities had all the perps in one spot. Convenient. But I also can’t help interpreting this as a shot across the bow. Blatter is clearly a problem, and if you’re a voting delegate and you get the idea that the gendarmes are going to keep tightening the screws until he’s gone, well, that’s something to think about. Maybe reform is in everyone’s best interest. So perhaps the timing is about intimidation as much as it is anything else.

3. FIFA insists they will not reconsider their decision to award the 2018 and 2022 World Cups Russia and Qatar. We’ll see. The Qatar situation, especially, was one of the most breathtaking displays of corruption I’ve ever seen, and if this cloud has a silver lining it’s that it has shone a lot of light on the slave labor policies employed by the emirate. The Guardian‘s Marina Hyde recently penned a brutal indictment of FIFA’s conduct in an op-ed entitled “How many slave deaths for the Qatar World Cup can Fifa put up with?

This week has seen the launch of a campaign by the International Trade Union Confederation, Play Fair Qatar and the NewFifaNow group to shame them with the appalling conditions endured by labourers building tournament infrastructure for 2022. “As things stand,” declares Play Fair Qatar, “more than 62 workers will die for each game played during the 2022 tournament.”

To repeat: more than 62 per game. Perhaps players in every match could each wear 62 black armbands. Then again, that would probably contravene Fifa’s strict rules on what constitutes official kit, infringements of which it punishes ferociously. On infringements such as mass slave death, however, the evidence suggests it is more relaxed.

Holding the Copa in Qatar would be – and this is not hyperbole – tantamount to staging the Olympics in pre-Civil War Dixie in venues built by disposable slave labor. So far the campaign to deal with this intolerable situation by forcing a move to a new host nation, or at least to “incent” policy change by Qatar, has leaned on the diplomatic. Next will come massive pressure on corporate sponsors, and one can’t imagine a company like, say, Coke, wanting “slave labor” and “62 deaths per game” hung around the neck of its brand.

Failing that, at some point national associations are going to have to decide if they can countenance being involved with a competition being staged in the 14th century. All it’s going to take is one iconic player – someone on the level of a Lionel Messi or a Cristiano Ronaldo or an Eden Hazard – to say “I’m not going.” When that happens, it’s all going to fall apart. In a hurry.

So today Blatter Crime Family officials are saying no, they’re not reconsidering on Qatar. But that may not be up to them when the dust clears. This morning’s action is aimed at following the money, and US federal investigators are not known for going off half-cocked. The decision about revoting on 2022 will be up to men who, you know, aren’t in prison.

I’m guessing that what’s happening in Switzerland right now is bad news for Qatari hopes of hosting the World Cup. And if the tournament is moved, where would it go? Perhaps the nation that was the favorite to land it in the first place, before briefcases full of petrodollars began changing hands: the United States.

The bottom line is that my “crime family” comments above aren’t just snark. FIFA is and has been one of the most abhorrent cesspits of corruption in the world, and today’s arrests make clear that at least a couple of powerful world governments have had enough of the organization as it is currently comprised.

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