A couple of suggestions for anyone in the future who might want to operate a massively-profitable and apparently corrupt global sporting concern without getting caught:
If you’re going to launder money, don’t launder it within the United States’ financial system. The Yanks have been touchy about that kind of thing ever since the financial crisis, and in the age of the Patriot Act and RICO laws, they’ve become rather aggressive in their investigative methods.
Don’t assume that Switzerland, historically the place people go when they want to get away from it all — or sometimes, get away with it all — is an impregnable sanctuary. It worked for Roman Polanski, but apparently it doesn’t work for everyone.
Be careful choosing your friends. Former U.S. soccer kingpin Chuck Blazer, for instance, a guy who ate and drank and lived the good life so much that he eventually had to ride around on motorized scooters, who had so much money burning a hole in his pockets that he rented a Trump Tower apartment just for his cats, may have been the life of the party, but why did he keep waving that key chain around during meetings? It was almost like it had a miniature microphone embedded in it.
Most of all, don’t be so arrogant, so shameless, so flamboyantly bad, that you turn your organization into something that makes even the horrid old IOC look lily-white by comparison, that all but dares law enforcement to take a run at you.
Alas, a bunch of folks deeply involved in soccer’s world governing body failed to follow those simple rules, and look where it’s got them now.
And yes, this is only the beginning….
Not that further comeuppance will be instantaneous. Sepp Blatter is expected to be re-elected Friday for a fifth term as FIFA’s president, and despite recent unsettling events he surely approaches that election with the confidence of Kim Jong-un. It’s one country, one vote, so even if the world’s football powers stand against him — as the Europeans have — he has been expert at lining up other constituencies with the help of his friends.
Friends like Jack Warner, who until being forced to step down as CONCACAF president and FIFA vice president in 2011 over corruption allegations, delivered the 30 Caribbean votes without fail. (A CONCACAF investigation in 2013 concluded that Warner had pocketed tens of millions of misappropriated dollars. But when Warner resigned, the investigation was closed and the "presumption of innocence [was] maintained." Which is a very FIFA way of doing business.)
Blatter wasn’t among those indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice on Wednesday, but Warner was. He is accused of, among other things, accepting the familiar briefcase-full-of-cash in return for supporting South Africa’s successful 2010 World Cup bid. (It should also be noted that Warner was the guy Canadian soccer officials were forced to court when they wanted to bring international tournaments here. There are some quotes out there extolling his fine qualities that they would probably like expunged from the public record.)
Warner turned himself in on Wednesday in his home country of Trinidad and was released on $2.5 million bail.
His sons, Daryll and Darian, whose close business relationship with their old man has been well-documented by the great muckraking journalist Andrew Jennings, decided to cop a plea. Whether they have been as helpful to the prosecutors as Blazer, who acknowledged in his own guilty plea that he overlooked paying taxes on tens of millions of dollars in income, remains to be seen. But it’s pretty obvious that in the interests of keeping themselves out of jail, some have been singing like canaries.
It’s possible that Blatter is in the clear in all of this. It’s possible, perhaps to have a whole bunch of gangrenous limbs and a head that’s just fine. But what about the ongoing investigations by Swiss authorities? And what about the far bigger scandal here than the sponsorship kickback schemes that the FBI uncovered? That would be the bidding process that awarded the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar respectively, and which no one outside of Russia and Qatar believes was on the level.
The soccer business isn’t like the Olympic business. It isn’t peddling virtue and a belief system as core elements of its product. It’s selling the most popular game in the world to addicts, and none of this will harm that.
There is a moment though, a tipping point that every despot faces eventually, when there’s no more hanging on, when loyal allies desert you, when you can’t cajole and you can’t intimidate and you don’t have any more favours to offer. There’s a last chance to get while the getting’s good or face the unpleasant consequences, and for Sepp Blatter that day is at hand.
In the meantime, guess who’s coming to dinner?
The Women’s World Cup begins here on June 6, the biggest event on the 2015 FIFA calendar and the biggest soccer event in Canadian history. The president’s supposed to be coming to kick things off.
Prepare the red carpet.