International sport doesn’t get a lot of attention in America — after all, we’re the greatest country on earth; why should we even bother competing with other inferior nations? Plus, the international governing bodies all have French names: Comite Federation Internationale de l’Automobile, and of course International Olympique, Federation Internationale de Football Association. Who wants to figure out how to read that?
We’re going to talk about that last one, FIFA, today. FIFA governs international “association football,” which the rest of the world incorrectly calls “football” and Americans call csoccer.o Countries compete against each other in the FIFA World Cup to determine who is the best at soccer. Furthermore, countries also compete against each other for the privilege of spending extravagant sums of money to host the World Cup.
For reference, the World Cup is held every four years. It will be held in Russia in 2018 and it might be held in Qatar in 2022, but given recent developments that may not happen — we’ll get there in a second. Why were these countries selected? Simple — they gave FIFA the most money. Not even the organization, the election officials themselves.
All that changed last week when the Department of Justice proved itself to be the next great soccer powerhouse and arrested 14 high-ranking members of FIFA under the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, which is the same law that was used to take down the mob. RICO typically begins with offering lower echelon members of a corrupt organization plea deals to rat on their bosses, so recently-re-elected and immediately-resigned FIFA president Sepp Blatter ought to be worried, as should everyone else in FIFA. It would be perfectly within the DOJ’s power to declare it a criminal organization, making it illegal for U.S. businesses to engage in any transactions with soccer’s governing body.
The charges against indicted officials are pretty standard for a RICO prosecution: wire fraud, racketeering and money laundering. All of this is in relation to soliciting bribes and accepting bribes, from sponsors and, of course, from countries hosting the World Cup.
Which brings us to Qatar. It’s 140 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer (a slight exaggeration), so they moved the cup to the winter to compensate. The country itself has no tradition of soccer. In addition, a Washington Post article claimed that 1,200 workers have died constructing World Cup stadiums there — though this was debunked, that figure in fact represents the total number of migrant worker deaths in Qatar over the same period, which is still appalling.
No one knows the actual figure for World Cup stadium construction — the Qatari government claims zero deaths,” and a BBC crew attempting an independent investigation was arrested.
Clearly, then, Qatar is the ideal place to hold an international warm-weather outdoor sporting event to foster peace and a love of the game.
In fact, the bid was most likely accepted on the grounds that Qatar had bribed several voting officials. This was never completely substantiated, and Blatter refused to start an internal inquiry until more evidence was found. The fact that finding more evidence is, in fact, the purpose of an inquiry, was glossed over. Oh well, I guess the DOJ will have to perform that inquiry, with the assistance of RICO.
With these arrests and the dominoes falling, FIFA may very well be no more. I think this brings up a good point about our domestic leagues, though. The MLB, NFL, NHL, etc. all have large amounts of bargaining power within the United States. Team owners regularly threaten to leave town unless municipalities build enormous stadiums with taxpayer dollars.
Local politicians, unwilling to be nt about our domestic leagues, though. Theennsylvania,” of course, oblige to the tune of billions of dollars spent on football, baseball and multi-purpose arenas which, though excellent for the fans and team owners, have questionable economic returns for the cities who spent their coffers on constructing them. The same goes for public universities: Does Penn State really need the second-largest stadium in the free world for their football team? Your elected officials spent your taxpayer dollars on it, so evidently you approved it.
It’s not as bad as FIFA, I admit, and it’s perfectly legal — but let’s face it, the Eagles threatening to leave would still be effectively blackmail to Mayor Nutter.
The U.S., then, has broken FIFA’s stranglehold on international soccer, and has been widely praised for doing so throughout the world. But who will break professional — and collegiate — sports’ hold on American politics?