That there is corruption at the top ranks of FIFA, world soccer's governing body, is about as shocking as Capt. Louis Renault's discovery of gambling at Rick's cafe in “Casablanca.” That the legal authorities of the world are finally doing something about it is more surprising, and welcome.
In New York on Wednesday, nine international soccer executives and five sports marketing and broadcasting figures were indicted after a federal corruption investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice. The department described an alleged 25-year, $150-million racketeering and bribery scheme involving the staging and broadcasting professional soccer games and tournaments, including the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Four other men and two sports-marketing businesses already have pleaded guilty and presumably are cooperating with investigators.
In a separate development, Swiss officials announced they are investigating suspected bribery in FIFA's decision five years ago to award the 2018 World Cup tournament to Russia and the 2022 tournament to Qatar. That investigation, which included seizing papers and electronic files from FIFA's Zurich headquarters on Wednesday, follows news exposes of corruption in the World Cup bidding process.
The individual officials should, of course, be considered innocent until proven guilty, but it has been clear for years to followers of the world's most popular sport that its governing body is riddled with corruption. Under public pressure in 2012, FIFA ordered an internal inquiry, but then last year released only a thin summary of its 430-page report and claimed innocence. In protest, Michael J. Garcia, a former U.S. attorney from New York who led the internal investigation, resigned over what he claimed was FIFA's whitewashing of “serious and wide-ranging issues” involving the 2018 and 2022 World Cup site-selection process. Garcia's report remains under wraps per FIFA bylaws.
U.S. Atty. Gen. Loretta Lynch said the federal investigation is continuing, and more charges against more officials seem likely — the indictment describes 25 unindicted and unnamed co-conspirators. The Justice Department should pursue the investigation as far as the evidence leads in order to root out the corruption and catalyze a cultural change within FIFA.
And that change should start at the top. FIFA President Joseph “Sepp” Blatter, under whose watch this corruption has flourished, is seeking a fifth four-year term as FIFA's president in a vote Friday in Zurich. FIFA's 209 member nations could begin restoring credibility by ousting him in favor of reform-minded challenger Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein of Jordan, and by changing the organization's rules so that the world can learn the details of Garcia's investigation.