With only days to go before the next FIFA presidential election and opponents dropping like flies, it appeared to be an easy week for Sepp Blatter. The current president faces a straight race with Prince Ali bin al-Hussein in Friday’s crucial election as he seeks a fifth term as FIFA’s ruler. However his preparations have been rocked by the breaking news of yet another scandal that threatens to blow FIFA apart. During dawn raids carried out by Swiss authorities and back by the US government, seven current or former FIFA executives were arrested in Zurich as part of the FBI’s ongoing three year investigation into bribery and corruption. Those arrested include current FIFA vice president Jeffrey Webb, former Brazil Football Federation president Jose Maria Marin and the current presidents of the Costa Rican, Nicaraguan and Venezuelan football federations. All seven men face extradition to the US where they will be joined by two other disgraced former FIFA executives Nicolas Leoz and Jack Warner as well as six other officials associated to FIFA with all fifteen facing charges. The arrests are in connection with suspected bribes given to or received by these delegates totally more than $100m. The bribes were primarily for votes for major tournaments stretching back as for as the early 1990’s.
As part of a calculated raid of not only the hotel where the executives were staying but also FIFA headquarters in Zurich and the CONCACAF head office in Miami, the FBI and US department of Justice has seized assets and electronic data that they believe will help their investigation. The charges that the FBI intends to lay upon these 15 officials associated to FIFA threaten to blow the lid off an alleged scheme of corruption, illegal payments, kickbacks and bribes that has haunted the FIFA corridors for over three decades. The scheme primarily involved corruption over media and marketing rights to matches and tournaments organized by FIFA including its prized asset, the World Cup. To date, Sepp Blatter has not been arrested nor faces any charges but the FBI is continuing its investigation into the organization to see exactly how far up the chain the scheme was known.
In a separate move, Swiss authorities have opened criminal proceedings against FIFA over the awarding of the controversial 2018 and 2022 World Cups, due to be held in Russia and Qatar respectively. Swiss police plan to question up to ten FIFA executive committee members who took part in the voting process back in December 2010. For a long time now, many have suspected wrong doing when it came to the result, especially with the announcement of the tiny but oil rich nation of Qatar being awarded. Qatar, who has an appalling human rights record and could boast no football stadiums during the time of their bid beat out the US and Australia for the rights, sparking a much heated debate around bribery by several FIFA executives that continued for months afterwards. FIFA attempted to defuse the situation by appointing an independent adjudicator in the form of Michael Garcia to investigate the allegations of bribery over the awarding of these two world cups, with the results to be made public. Garcia did manage to produce a 430 page report despite several key figures and countries refusing outright to participate in his investigation. His report was then handed to a FIFA appointed German judge Hans-Joachim Eckert for summarization. The result of this summary cleared FIFA and the two winning bids of any illegal activities, a move that was slammed by Garcia who quit in protest claiming that the summary was materially incomplete and an erroneous representation of the facts and conclusions.
FIFA have been quick to pounce on the breaking news about the two investigates claiming through their spokesperson that the moves were a good thing for FIFA and that they welcomed the involvement of the US and Swiss authorities in the struggle to root out any wrongdoing in football. This calculated reaction is further proof of how corrupt and rotten to the core FIFA has become under not just under Sepp Blatter’s watch but before that under former president Joao Havelange. The investigations are unfortunately unlikely to have a detrimental effect on Blatter’s chances of retaining the presidents chair post Friday but it could seriously damage his reputation in the long run. Blatter is by no means out of the woods after the arrests today with both investigations continuing and likely to uncover further scandals. Even if they are unable to find clear proof that Blatter was involved directly in the corruption and bribery, the arrest of key current FIFA committee members under his watch as FIFA president means that the buck stops at his door.