Fifa in crisis over corruption arrests

Red card: Fifa president Joseph ‘Sepp’ Blatter is still seeking re-election on Friday. ©PA

As two investigations probe into bribery and fraud at Fifa, football’s governing body finds itself in yet another scandal. Is it inevitable that money and power will always corrupt?

At 6am yesterday in Zurich’s opulent five-star Bauer au Lac hotel, Swiss police officers took room keys from the lobby and calmly arrested seven senior Fifa officials. The accusations of bribery and corruption stretch back decades, and vice-president Jeffrey Webb is among those charged. As the men were escorted from the premises, staff at the luxurious hotel held up large sheets to obscure them from view and preserve their ‘privacy’.

The men were arrested on behalf of the US department of justice. So far, 14 defendants are under investigation for accepting millions of pounds in bribes and kickbacks over around 20 years. Richard Weber, chief of the IRS investigation, said, ‘This really is the World Cup of fraud, and today we are issuing Fifa a red card.’

Meanwhile, in an entirely separate case, the Swiss Office of the Attorney General has launched an investigation into ‘criminal mismanagement and money laundering’ during the allocation of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. The tournaments will be held in Russia and Qatar respectively, and have been plagued with controversy since their announcement in 2010.

In a press conference a few hours after the arrests, Fifa’s director of communication Walter de Gregorio said that the organisation welcomed the investigations and hoped that they would help to ‘clean up’ the sport. It was Fifa, he said, which had asked the Swiss police to begin investigating the allocation of the World Cups back in November, after it handed over its own report on the accusations of corruption.

Fifa president Sepp Blatter was not one of the men arrested, and de Gregorio repeatedly insisted that the president was ‘not involved’, and was even ‘relaxed’ about the proceedings. Blatter is seeking re-election on Friday, and so far has no plans to step down or even postpone the vote. ‘It hurts,’ said de Gregorio, but Fifa is ‘on the right track’.

The beautiful game?

We have seen this story time and again, many observers will say. Power will always corrupt when it goes unchecked and unrestricted, because people begin to think that normal rules do not apply to them — look at violent dictators, tax-evading CEOs and disgraced religious leaders. It is ordinary people who suffer the consequences: in this case the football fans who trusted Fifa to organise the game they love.

But this is the beginning of a new chapter, others say, and Fifa’s cooperation proves it. Together, the USA and Switzerland will discover those who have broken the law and bring them to justice as appropriate. A small number of people abuse money and power, but they are responsible for their own actions — and if they are guilty then they will be punished and the sport can move on.

You Decide

  1. Do money and power always tend to corrupt?
  2. Should Sepp Blatter resign, even if he has not been accused of any crimes?

Activities

  1. Imagine that you are running in Fifa’s presidential election on Friday. Write a short speech explaining what’s next for the sport in light of these arrests.
  2. Divide into groups and create a presentation exploring the controversies which surround the World Cups in either Russia or Qatar.

Some People Say...

“The corruption of the best things gives rise to the worst.”

David Hume

What do you think?

Q & A

How serious are the charges?
The most serious charge is that of racketeering: illegal business deals which are a form of ‘organised crime’. The maximum sentence in the US is 20 years in prison. The investigation has been ongoing for three years, and the attorney general Loretta Lynch said that ‘this indictment is not the final chapter’. She refused to comment on whether other individuals, including the president, were also involved.
Why did both investigations happen at once?
There’s been no clear answer to that, and they are unconnected. However, it has been suggested that both the USA and Switzerland took advantage of the start of Fifa’s congress, which brought many of the officials together in one place. But it was not deliberately timed to coincide with the election, insisted Lynch.

Word Watch

Fifa
The Fédération Internationale de Football Association includes 209 national associations and their football teams.
Bribes and kickbacks
US authorities accuse Fifa of corruption worth around £97m over the last 23 years, so far only where US banks were used. Many accusations involve marketing companies bribing officials in return for lucrative contracts ‘year after year, tournament after tournament’.
Plagued with controversy
Questions were raised over the voting processes for both the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. Many also protest against Russia’s record on racism in football, as well as its anti-LGBT laws and military involvement in Ukraine. Meanwhile, temperatures in Qatar can reach 50°C — hardly ideal for sporting events — and the country’s harsh migrant worker laws have been compared to a form of slavery.
Report
Fifa’s ethics investigator Michael Garcia completed the report, and although at the time Fifa said there was not enough wrongdoing to move the games, Garcia later said his report had been ‘misrepresented’.
Sepp Blatter
The 79-year-old has been president for 17 years.

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