Following last Wednesday’s U.S. Senate panel hearing on corruption in international soccer, British investigative journalist Andrew Jennings, who was invited to give testimony at last week’s hearing, has given an interview on the "Soccer Morning" show with Jason Davis in which he calls for American soccer fans to demand the ousting of U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati and CEO Dan Flynn from office.
Speaking on the show on Monday (click here for the full You Tube version of show hosted by World Soccer Talk), Jennings says, “There’s got to be a revolution in U.S. soccer against the leadership of U.S. Soccer, recalling Mr. Gulati and sending him back to Columbia University to teach Economics, sending Mr. Flynn into retirement and getting a whole new organization.”
His main reason behind calling for the pair’s ouster is that during last week’s hearing, Flynn, who appeared in place of Gulati, said that neither he nor U.S. Soccer had any direct knowledge of corruption inside FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, or Concacaf, the North and Central American and Caribbean confederation. Instead, Flynn alluded to a vague “discomfort” with the manner in which some business was conducted.
During the Senate hearing, Jennings said that U.S. Soccer “had to know” about the illegal activities of, for example, former U.S. Soccer, Concacaf and FIFA exec Chuck Blazer, who has been an FBI informant for the last four years.
“Senator [Jerry] Moran (Republican-KS) had said earlier that if U.S. Soccer didn’t know [about the corruption going on in the U.S. under Chuck Blazer], then goodness gracious me, they’re not fit for purpose,” Jennings says in the “Soccer Morning” interview. “And if they did know, there would have been a prison ban along with the rest of [the 14 FIFA and sports marketing execs who were indicted in May].”
Jennings goes on to criticize Gulati for sending Flynn to the hearing in his place: “I’m going to guess why Sunil Gulati wasn’t there because he doesn’t want to answer any questions about the wonderful lifestyle he has and his dreams that he has any power at FIFA by staying with the [FIFA President] Sepp Blatter way of doing things,” he says, adding: “I think it’s an absolute disgrace that when a reputable Senate subcommittee decides to have a hearing on how U.S. Soccer is relating to the corrupt FIFA, he doesn’t turn up. Instead, he sends his bag carrier Dan Flynn, [who was asked] does American soccer recognize what a bunch of criminals there are running FIFA? And he didn’t know.”
Jennings adds further: “When [Flynn] started saying that ‘we knew nothing about corruption at Concacaf,’ everybody else did. I was writing stories about Jack Warner, then president of Concacaf, back in 2002 about his ticket rackets at that World Cup. Then again in 2006, then again in 2010. There was every kind of corruption going on then, and a lot of it was discovered and made public."
In an earlier article also appearing in World Soccer Talk, Kartik Krishnaiyer, the former head of public relations for the NASL, chides the American soccer press for ignoring the fact that the FBI’s indictments against the current and former Concacaf and Traffic Sports execs indicate that the “very hosting and marketing” of the currently underway Gold Cup “has been compromised by alleged corruption.”
He asks further: “How were Chuck Blazer’s alleged activities that appear to have benefited MLS and U.S. Soccer not faced more scrutiny -- such as MLS convincing Blazer to pressure FIFA to overturn the awarding of the 2010 and 2014 FIFA World Cup TV rights from NBC Sports and to give them to ESPN instead. As a result, ESPN decided to start paying MLS for TV rights. Previously, MLS paid ESPN and FOX Soccer to put its games on those networks.”
Krishnaiyer then goes on to note how Gulati and Blazer were best friends, yet in a 2013 interview with Sports Illustrated, Gulati claims to know nothing about Concacaf’s “staggering examples of improper behavior.” He also asks why the Gold Cup, usually held every two years, is always (at least partially) played on U.S. soil.
Finally, Krishnaiyer says that, per the FBI indictments, the decision to award the 2016 Copa America tournament to the U.S. allegedly included over a hundred million dollars in bribery (it was, according to the Federal indictment, part of a rights deal for four tournaments in which bribes of $110 million were or were scheduled to be paid out). “On this matter, it’s hard to believe that high-ranking officials either at the USSF or around the game in the United States had zero knowledge of this,” he says.
While the USSF certainly has a lot to answer for, it should be noted, again, that last week’s Senate panel hearing was not a trial -- no one was under oath. And while it may not look great that Gulati sent Flynn to answer the panel’s questions in his stead, there is nothing illegal or even untoward about this, either. There are countless examples of Senate subcommittee hearings on a variety of subjects where the highest-ranking officials at a given organization are invited to attend and they cannot, so they send someone else, for whatever reason.
Moreover, as Fox Sports’ Alexi Lalas and SI’s Grant Wahl pointed out via Twitter, the Senate panel at times vastly overestimated the power and influence that U.S. Soccer has inside FIFA, and more pointedly, Concacaf.
To be sure, many of the questions posed by the journalists above need to be answered by U.S. Soccer. We deserve to know in far greater detail what it did and did not know about the FIFA and CONCACAF scandals, but before we decide that our national soccer federation employs a network of crooks and is need of some kind of revolution, how about we all take a step back and let the legal and judicial proceedings in the Concacaf and FIFA cases happen first?