Whispers around world soccer and kickbacks now scream from headlines

Whispers around world soccer and kickbacks now scream from headlines
A reporter takes a photograph of a chart that the Justice Department used to explain its allegations of bribery involvingFIFA officials. (Justin Lane / EPA)

And so, it has come to pass, in our world of sports marketing and branding and fat-cat-making, that international soccer is crooked.

We shall pause here while you gather yourself from the shock. Five seconds ought to be enough.


No less than U.S. Atty. Gen. Loretta Lynch says it is so. Her office's indictment against several guys in suits and ties says there has been corruption in FIFA "that is rampant, systemic and deep-rooted, both abroad and in the U.S."

The indictment mentioned bribes, kickbacks and millions of dollars in personal gain. It named mostly officials from CONCACAF, the regional soccer organization that runs the sport in our area. CONCACAF stands for the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Associations of Football.

Yes, of course. Your eyes are already glazing over. When international sports have smaller groups and subsets of the subsets of those groups, all wanting to gain power, watch out. Little shots want to become big shots. Bribery isn't bribery. It is business.

For decades, we have been told, by soccer, that soccer would soon be getting the big sports headlines in the U.S. Well, here they are.

To be transparent here, unlike soccer, I know and care about the sport as much as I do Sri Lankan politics. The U.S.-hosted World Cup in 1994 was interesting, even fun. I watched a lot of it, even traveled and wrote about it. Lots of people cared and loved it and I have never lacked appreciation for that.

HBO host John Oliver put that worldwide fanaticism in great perspective on one of his shows before the World Cup in Brazil last year. He said, "When David Beckham got a tattoo of Jesus, soccer fans considered that a huge day for Jesus."

Nevertheless, just like so many Americans, especially of my vintage, I remain mystified that any game that could end in 0-0 can stir people the way it does. And yes, that's exactly what Europeans say about nine innings of baseball.

Oliver, a soccer sycophant who grew up in England, also had a great line about what soccer really is in America: "It is what you pick up your 10-year-old daughter from."

All you really need to know about soccer and its fat-cat powers is that it voted (voted?) to hold the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Come to find out, temperatures in that Middle Eastern desert country, in the time frame of the World Cup, tend to reach as high as 122 degrees.

It's one thing, giving your sport a sizzle, but that's ridiculous.

The more serious and well-documented issue is that in the early stages of construction for this Qatar World Cup, more than 1,000 workers have already died on the job. Apparently, Qatar has a void in its building code regarding skyscraper safety.

The chief fat cat in the FIFA herd is a tabby named Sepp Blatter, who is running for reelection to a fifth term as the organization's president in a few days. Picture this possibility: Congratulations on your election, Mr. Blatter, and remind us again what size prison suit would fit best.

Blatter always seemed to master the art of pulling the right country's name out of the hat for that country's perfect group competitive edge. And there always seemed to be suspicions the fit was nicely greased by hard-to-track cash.

It was always fun to watch the world's soccer media members, rolling their collective eyes at World Cup draws, as countries and group names came out of the hat in places most directly logical to expected cash flow.


Blatter may be most famous, however, for one TV interview. He was asked how FIFA, a nonprofit, could have $1 billion sitting in the bank (it's $1.5 billion now) and still be a nonprofit.

"Oh, those are reserves," he said.

Some of the accused were arrested at their hotel in Zurich, where they were attending soccer meetings. Yes, Zurich, not to be confused with Newark.

Like putting a World Cup in Qatar, the choice of a soccer meeting hotel is germane to this entire story. The Zurich hotel where some of the accused were rounded up is the Baur au Lac.

It is five-star, of course, and advertises views of Lake Zurich and the Swiss Alps. If you hurry, you can get a corner suite for just $3,108 a night.

Even more significant: the city's banking center is "within walking distance."

Bring on those handcuffs.

Twitter: @Dwyrelatimes