Police in Zurich arrested seven top officials of FIFA, the federation that runs world soccer after the U.S. Justice Department in New York unsealed indictments of racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering against them and seven others. Then Swiss police raided FIFA’s headquarters in that city, carting away hordes of documents and hard drives, with Switzerland’s attorney general charging that Russia and Qatar had effectively bought their hosting rights for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments, respectively. The soccer world is reeling and here’s why:
What is FIFA?
FIFA is the French acronym for the International Federation of Association Football, or soccer as it is known in the U.S. Headquartered in Zurich, it has grown from just eight European countries in 1904 to a global behemoth now, comprising 209 national soccer organizations, which pay dues, and compete in the World Cup every four years.
How corrupt is the soccer world?
The U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch says the corruption within FIFA has gone on for decades, involves millions of dollars in bribes, and is ““rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted” both inside the U.S. and abroad. Top officials allegedly took millions in bribes from countries vying to win hosting rights to the World Cup, which takes place every four years and is the biggest sporting event on the planet. Just two weeks ago Argentina’s iconic player Diego Maradona called FIFA “a mafia.”
What are the charges against soccer officials?
The U.S. alleges top FIFA officials took, or agreed to take, “well over $150 million in bribes and kickbacks” to lock in big money-making marketing rights.” FBI director James Comey said there was “a culture of corruption and greed” for many years. Also on Wednesday, Switzerland’s Attorney General’s Office raided FIFA headquarters and seized documents and hard drives, saying they’re investigating separate money-laundering and criminal-mismanagement charges, in connection with FIFA members’ vote to hand Russia hosting rights for the World Cup 2018, and tiny oil-rich Qatar for the 2022 World Cup.
How rich is FIFA?
FIFA makes billions from the World Cup tournaments. Much of that money comes from TV broadcast rights and marketing deals. Last week FIFA released its 2014 financial statement, showing that it made $4.5 billion from the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, with $2.6 billion in clear profit after expenses.
Who’s been arrested?
The most famous people in custody are Jeffrey Webb, FIFA’s vice president and head of the Miami-based COCACAF, which runs soccer in the U.S., Canada, Central America and the Caribbean; and Jack Warner, the previous COCACAF president. Also facing trial are the soccer presidents for Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Webb is a close ally to FIFA president Sepp Blatter, and until Wednesday many regarded him as Blatter’s likely successor.
What happens next?
The seven FIFA officials arrested in Zurich could be extradited to New York City to stand trial with seven others arrested in the U.S. and elsewhere. (Here is the full list of defendants.) As FBI investigators pore over the FIFA documents the Swiss seized on Wednesday, it is possible that others could face charges of wrongdoing. In New York City, acting U.S. Attorney Kelly Currie said the indictments showed that officials were determined to stamp up soccer corruption completely. “Let me be clear: this indictment is not the final chapter in our investigation,” he said.
FIFA will also face intense pressure to publish an anticorruption report, which a former New York prosecutor, Michael Garcia, prepared for the organization last November, and which has never been made public.
What’s FIFA’s response?
FIFA says it will go ahead with its congress in Zurich, including voting Friday for the organization’s president. FIFA’s current president Blatter, who has run the organization for 17 years, is standing for a fifth four-year term. Blatter is not under indictment, but the arrests and charges could cause irreparable damage to his leadership. Jordan’s Prince Ali bin Hussein is standing against him in Friday’s vote, in a campaign to end decades of corruption.
Will FIFA cancel the Russian and Qatar World Cups?
So far FIFA insists the 2018 and 2022 Word Cups will go ahead as planned. But that could change: FIFA spokesman Walter de Gregorio told reporters in Zurich, “Russia and Qatar will be played. This is what is fact today. I don’t go into speculation about what will happen tomorrow.”