Off The Post couldn’t help but be overcome by déjà vu after waking up to news of the 14 indictments handed out by Swiss and U.S. authorities on Wednesday morning as the FIFA Congress and subsequent presidential election were scheduled to begin in Zurich.
In a nutshell, here’s what happened: nine current and former soccer officials from North, Central and South America and the Caribbean were indicted by U.S. authorities alongside six sports marketing executives for alleged racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering, among other white-collar crimes, over a 24-year period. The officials and executives in question were allegedly involved in kickbacks and bribes totaling more than $150 million.
Somewhat separately, Swiss authorities announced hours later that they raided FIFA’s Zurich offices in order to collect data and other materials as part of its investigation into the bidding processes for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
The reason this is separate, is because FIFA here is positioning itself as a kind of defendant after having handed over the Michael Garcia report to Swiss authorities last November. The authorities say they are using the FIFA Congress to interview 10 current FIFA executive committee members that are not Swiss residents who voted on the matter back in 2010.
So, why the déjà vu?
Simply put, we’ve seen this movie before. From Sepp Blatter’s controversial ascendancy to the FIFA throne in 1998, which came accompanied by allegations of vote-rigging, to the collapse of marketing firm ISL in 2002, to former FIFA general secretary Michel Zen-Ruffinen’s parting shot at Blatter in the same year, to the 2011 FIFA presidential election, in which former top executives Jack Warner and Mohamed Bin Hammam were expelled from the organization for more bribes and vote-rigging, to the Michael Garcia investigation into the bidding for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, his subsequent report last year, FIFA’s publication of a botched (read: erroneous) summary of that report, Garcia’s prompt resignation, and now, this --well, to the casual observer, at least, you could be forgiven for thinking that untold numbers of former FIFA execs must already be rotting away in jail cells all over the world.
Actually, as ESPN contributor Gabriele Marcotti rightly points out, the biggest difference between Wednesday’s indictments and all the other times FIFA execs made headlines for standing down amid various bribery, vote-rigging and money-laundering, etc. allegations is that this time, law enforcement is involved.
It’s kind of a big deal.
And, of course, the timing of the joint Swiss-U.S. effort is especially significant because King Blatter is set to be re-anointed in just two day’s time by an expected majority of his 209 member-delegate subjects. So, while officials from the U.S. Department of Justice are saying things like “this is the beginning, not the end” of the investigation into widespread corruption inside FIFA, you could be forgiven for thinking that the mafia-like organization that pervades over global soccer is finally unraveling.
Let’s hope so, but let’s also not get carried away.
Reading between the lines, each of the 14 people indicted for alleged crimes on Wednesday had some connection to business dealings that fell inside U.S. jurisdiction -- either directly or indirectly. And while it’s clear that the U.S. is doing all it can to get rid of the rot inside FIFA, let’s not forget that this is a truly global organization, and an awful lot of money can move around outside of the watchful eye of U.S. regulators. All of which is to say that it will take a massively coordinated global effort from politicians, regulators, global businesses as well as FIFA whistleblowers to clean up this organization. Taking down the current and former heads of Concacaf and Conmebl is a great start.