FIFA v. World: Global Press Reacts To Soccer Scandal
The widening corruption probe into FIFA looks like a devastating earthquake for the “beautiful game,” with the epicenter in Zurich, where police arrested seven senior officials of the world soccer body just two days before the controversial FIFA chief was set to be chosen for a record fifth term. But the reverberations of the U.S. and Swiss investigations are of course global, as questions surface about the handling of past World Cups, and fans and commentators ask if the world’s most popular sport has been rotten at its core.
Here’s a look at coverage in the worldwide media.
What the U.S. Justice Department unveiled yesterday at first looks like a complicated web with many different players involved but one common interest: to make as much money as possible from bribes. After leading with the first revelations yesterday,The New York Timeson Thursday highlights the role of Chuck Blazer, a “soccer bon vivant who once had an enormous appetite for expensive meals, luxury travel, extravagant living and, according to the federal authorities, corrupt self-enrichment.” The man nicknamed “Mr. 10 Percent,” played a crucial part in the investigation after he secretly agreed to cooperate and pleaded guilty in 2013 to a 10-count charge that included, among others, “racketeering, wire fraud, money laundering and income tax evasion.”
The 70-year-old, who secretly recorded key meetings for U.S. investigators that provided crucial evidence of bribes, now lays in a hospital bed suffering from colon cancer.
The newspaper also quotes two law enforcement officials as saying that the operation had long been planned, as the FIFA’s annual meeting in Zurich “provided the perfect setting,” with most of the suspects “in one place.”
The New York Times’ editorial board adds its voice to those urging Blatter to step down and forego his bid for reelection, saying that “a first step is the immediate ouster of Mr. Blatter and the restructuring of FIFA.” Russia and Qatar are also in its line of fire. “Short of convincing proof to refute evidence of misconduct in the Qatar decision and swift action to improve the conditions for foreign workers, that award should be withdrawn.”
ESPN put together Blatter’s most memorable moments at the FIFA. These include Robin Williams calling him “Mr. Bladder” and telling him “It's nice to meet you after all these years of feeling you,” dancing with Shakira and the many times he said he’d retire soon. But according to ESPN’s Gab Marcotti, the investigations may force Blatter into a “dignified don’t ask, don’t tell, type of exit.”
Blatter stayed quite impassive facing arrests and critics from the whole world. Before the intervention from the FBI, he thought the election of Friday would go his way without any trouble and even the storm that touched Zurich yesterday did not make him flinch and he still plans on being reelected this week. La Tribune de Genève recalls that it’s not the first difficult episode for the FIFA boss. How long before he gets worried? For the moment, 14 people are concerned and three already confessed among whom Chuck Blazer, former executive member of the FIFA, who gave the first elements to the FBI.
Here’s a Worldcrunch translated piece from Swiss daily Le Temps: Sepp Blatter And FIFA, Switzerland Shamed Again.
The host of last year’s World Cup, where football is almost a religion, finds itself deeply embroiled in yet another corruption scandal, as a probe continues into state-owned oil giant Petrobras that has threatened Dilma Rousseff and her government. Among those arrested in Zurich yesterday was José Maria Marin, who presided over the Brazilian Football Confederation between 2012 and April 2015. According to documents from the U.S. Justice Department, Marin shared kickbacks with both his predecessor Ricardo Teixeira and his then successor-to-be Marco Del Nero.
The document, cited by Folha de S. Paolo, offers the saucy revelation of a meeting in April 2014 in Miami between Marin and José Hawilla, owner and founder of Brazilian sports marketing firm Traffic Group (based in the U.S.), during which the former asked the latter to cut Teixeira out of the deal, so he would share the estimated $600,000 bribe only with his successor Del Nero.
Hawilla appears to be the real kingpin of this part of the alleged global network. A former sports journalist, he was arrested last year in the U.S. and confessed to extortion, electronic fraud, money laundering and obstruction of justice, O Globo reports. Since then, like Chuck Blazer, he agreed to forfeit over $151 million and to collaborate with the U.S. Justice Department, something called “rewarded denunciation” in Brazil. Via his Traffic Group, he acted as the middleman between the Brazilian Football Confederation and Nike, when the two signed a sponsorship deal in 1996. A similar scheme saw him receive bribes as part of television rights for major tournaments in South America. More about Hawilla in this detailed piece from Forbes.
The revelations have raised doubts about whether the decision to award Brazil the hosting of the 2014 World Cup was clean. Folha columnist Clovis Rossi writes that since investigations have been launched into the winning bids by Russia (2018) and Qatar (2022), “I cannot find one single reason why there wouldn’t be some plot” to secure the Brazilian bid, which he notes, was strongly backed by then President Lula da Silva. If his suspicions were to materialize, Rossi writes, “it would be an immensely bigger shock than Brazil’s 7-1 loss to Germany” in last year’s World Cup semifinal in Belo Horizonte.
The French media was duly skeptical about both the long and short-term effects of the probe. The Paris-based daily Libération predicted that Sepp Blatter would reelected Friday for a fifth term atop FIFA, an organization where “corruption is systematic.” Since 1998, when Blatter was surprisingly elected at the head of the FIFA with a little help from former French star Michel Platini, he managed to stay on top all theses years thanks to “perfect knowledge of his environment and lack of scruples.” Blatter’s main argument not to be challenged? An average of a cool $5.7 billion every four-year World Cup cycle that he redistributes to certain countries and soccer leagues that support him.
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In Thursday’s lead editorial, Le Monde also calls for the 79-year-old to resign, though it warns that removing “the Godfather” alone won’t suffice to solve FIFA’s problems. “The whole institution needs a revolution and new rules,” the editorial concludes.
According to L’Équipe, FIFA is adept at hiding its secrets, much like a mafia organization. The French sports daily also wondered if the inquiry was prompted by the disappointment of The United States after FIFA’s decision to give the 2022 World Cup to Qatar.
FIFA’s scandal is just the tip of the iceberg in the sport business, where other cases like this could come out. Leading financial daily Les Échos writes that sports is an economic activity just like any other, except that it is not ruled by normal rules because the people running the industry make us believe that it is not a normal activity. The newspaper suggests sports should be run by business professionals, and the governing bodies like FIFA should have term limits, separation of the powers and a completely different organizational chart.
The probe could reach as far back as France’s triumphant World Cup in 1998, which it hosted and won. French weekly L’Obs reports that Jack Warner, former president of the Concacaf (Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football) was allegedly paid a bribe for his vote for France against Morocco in the 1992 selection for the 1998 tournament.
The first and only African country to have hosted the World Cup (in 2010) stands accused of buying the 2004 vote that awarded it the competition, ahead of Morocco. The South African delegation is said to have paid $10 million to Warner, who by then had risen to be FIFA vice president. According to The Times of South Africa, the money was laundered by FIFA and was used to buy three votes, which ended up being decisive.
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The newspaper highlights that Morocco, which lost the bid to host the 2010 competition by just four votes, could demand compensation to the South African government, which has often boasted about the billions the tournament is said to have brought in.
Also of note are the political implications for the ruling African National Congress party and especially one of its members, Danny Jordaan, who also happens to be the president of the South African Football Association. Jordaan was the successful bid’s leader in 2004 and the revelations could damage his hopes to be elected this Thursday as mayor of Nelson Mandela Bay, The Mail & Guardian reports.
Joining worldwide calls for Sepp Blatter to go, The Cape Times writes that “no self-respecting head of any sports body, let alone that of the most popular sport in the world, would be expected to survive such turmoil,” though it warns that “it would be no surprise if Blatter simply tried to ride out the storm.” It concludes, “Blatter might not step down of his own accord. But then he must be pushed.”
Just like Qatar, though to a lesser extent, it now appears impossible to say for sure whether Russia will be allowed to go ahead and host the next World Cup, in 2018, with recurring allegations of corruption ahead of the voting process. Quoted in The Moscow Times, Kirill Kabanov, the head of Russia's National-Anti Corruption Committee, said that “this situation could be played against Russia and against the holding of the World Cup in Russia.” A former prominent footballer, Yevgeny Lovchev, went further and suggested the U.S. investigation might have ulterior motives, namely to get back at Russia for its policy in eastern Ukraine. “It is a political move by the Americans because of what is going on in the world,” he was quoted as saying.
In comments to journalists, President Vladimir Putin accused the U.S. of meddling abroad. “Unfortunately our American partners are using these methods in order to achieve their own selfish gains,” he said. Yesterday, a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman characterized the high-profile arrests and investigation as “clearly another case of illegal exterritorial use of U.S. law.”
In addition to FIFA officials, five sports marketing executives were also arrested in connection with the investigation, including three Argentines, Alejandro Burzaco, Hugo Jinkis and Mariano Jinkis, who were arrested in their native country. The lawyers of the three businessmen have managed to keep them out of jail for the moment, as the U.S. seeks extradition. Buenos Aires daily Clarín notes that the Argentine judge has to be sure, among other criteria, that their crimes are punishable in both the U.S. and Argentina and that they wouldn’t face the death penalty if convicted by an American court. On that final point, as serious as the scandal may be for the soccer world, the judge can rest easy.
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