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On Wednesday, in two separate raids in Switzerland, police arrested seven executive members of FIFA, the body that governs world soccer, and seized numerous documents. The raids were part of two separate criminal investigations — one initiated by the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI; the other by the Swiss DoJ.
What are the charges?
The U.S. DOJ has indicted nine FIFA officials and four executives of sports management companies on suspicion of racketeering, money-laundering and wire fraud. They’re accused of receiving or facilitating bribes of more than $150 million over the past 24 years, of taking money and kickbacks in exchange for television and sponsorship rights for international soccer tournaments.
The Swiss investigation is looking into allegations of bribes and vote-buying linked to the bids for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. The 2018 World Cup was awarded to Russia, although most observers thought England would win. The 2022 tournament was handed to Qatar over the USA and Australia.
Why is the U.S. involved?
The alleged bribes and money-laundering took place on U.S. soil using U.S. banks. Some have also suggested the U.S. has a vested interest in the case after it was rejected for the 2022 World Cup in favor of Qatar.
Who are the key players?
Among those indicted include Jeffrey Webb, current vice president of FIFA, and Jack Warner, a former FIFA VP. Webb took over from Warner as president of CONCACAF, the soccer governing body for North and Central America and the Caribbean. Warner had resigned in disgrace. He is alleged to have sold his vote for the 2010 World Cup bid to eventual winner South Africa for $10 million.
Chuck Blazer, a former FIFA executive turned whistleblower, has pleaded guilty to multiple charges and is a key figure in the DOJ’s case.
Above them all is FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who oversaw the organization when most of the alleged crimes took place but has so far not been charged. Blatter is up for re-election on Friday.
What’s at stake?
To hear the Department of Justice spin it, the future of soccer, the world’s most popular and most financially lucrative sport. Specifically, the charges could impact Friday’s election of a new FIFA president and possibly result in rebidding for 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
What do FIFA’s sponsors think?
They’re angry, really angry. FIFA’s major corporate backers, including Visa, Adidas and Coca-Cola have called on the soccer body to reform. In a statement Wednesday, Visa said that unless FIFA rebuilds a corporate culture with “strong ethical practices” at its heart, “We have informed them that we will reassess our sponsorship.” Other sponsors, including McDonald’s, Anheuser-Busch and Hyundai Motors, have expressed concern.
Will it change anything?
That’s an open question. If serious criminal activity can be proven, FIFA may be forced to reopen bids for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, something it has so far ruled out. The investigations could also threaten Blatter’s iron-fisted rule over FIFA. All eyes are on the FIFA presidential vote in Zurich on Friday. Before Wednesday’s raids, Blatter’s re-election to a fifth term was essentially a done deal. On Thursday, UEFA, which represents the European soccer association, threw its support behind Blatter’s opponent, Prince Ali bin al-Hussein. But it’s still unclear whether Prince Ali will be able to garner sufficient votes from outside Europe to seriously challenge Blatter.
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