Soccer, or as it is internationally called, football, is supposed to be THE beautiful game. And it is. But last week was perhaps the ugliest day in the game's checkered 111 --year history that has been peppered with some great highs and many, many horrible lows. The recent arrest of a string of high-level FIFA (Federation of International Football Association) officials in Sweden, Argentina and Trinidad and Tobago was easily the most monumental embarrassment for the fabled institution and egg in the face of all those who love the beautiful game.
And when the 47 charges were revealed by the brand new and aggressive, no-nonsense, United States Attorney, Loretta Lynch, to an awe-struck crowd at a news conference in Brooklyn, New York, the jaw-dropping depth and scope of the corruption, bribery and pay-to-play schemes allegedly managed by FIFA's top-level officials over the span of 20 years, brought new meaning to the phrase "greedy pigs gobbling in a trough."
As the names were reeled off, one by one, to collective international gasps, the FBI and the U.S. Justice Department's charges and revelations still came as no really big surprise or shock to many following FIFA's antics over the years. Only the chronically blind could envision FIFA as lacking in corruption and see its vaunted officials in Armani suits as benign kleptomaniacs. Fact is that for years many in FIFA's ranks and ordinary honest and well-meaning people, long concluded, on prima facie evidence, that FIFA was rotten through and through to its highfalutin core.
If ever there was justification for the saying that "power corrupts absolutely" then FIFA's hastily convened presser, in the light of the arrests and charges, trotting out statements about "this for FIFA is good" demonstrated the kind of unbridled arrogance that is synonymous with an organization and its management that has long thought that it was above the law.
Hilariously, as FIFA spokesman Walter DeGregorio was pronouncing these incredulous statements, almost appearing in a parallel universe, Swiss law enforcement officials were busy raiding the organization's $150 million headquarters in Zurich while U.S. Attorney General Lynch was stating publicly that FIFA was charged with "corruption that is rampant, systemic and deep-rooted", involving abuse of trust to acquire "millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks." So if this was good for FIFA then I don't know what planet its spokesman was and is living on or which rock he'd just crawled out from under.
Still, I hasten to say that I'm no psychiatrist but I know when someone is in a self-induced state of denial. FIFA and its embattled president, Sepp Blatter, are clearly in denial. Having never faced any real retribution for their years of corrupt practices that is not an institutionalized culture within FIFA, they still believe that they can weather this new storm. Mr. Blatter's spokesman even went so far as to loftily conclude that somehow the events unfolding had nothing to do with his boss. Ah, classic denial.
But as the day wore on and the scale of the allegations sunk home FIFA's reaction was predictable. Mr. Blatter and his remaining cronies busied themselves to go ahead with a scheduled election ignoring the controversy swirling around him and FIFA and the mounting calls for him to step down as president. Only a delusional nincompoop could be forgiven for thinking that after the indictments, arrests and charges that within FIFA it was still business as usual and everything was going to turn out all right.
And I don't consider Mr. Blatter a nincompoop.
He may well survive this latest scandal and hold on to his position atop the heaping red cards of scandal and corruption that is now FIFA. Or, football organizations, international corporate sponsors, and nations could take a stand and kick him out. FIFA depends on corporate sponsorship to the tune of over $400 million for most of its operations. That's real and powerful leverage. If they want him out -- he's gone.
For me the real mindboggling thing is why it has taken so long for law enforcement to realize that FIFA is a dirty as the Augean Stables. It was no secret that for over 20 years top officials and managers in FIFA used the organization as their own private piggy bank and betting parlor. It was also no secret that they entered into unholy matrimony with corrupt governments, football organizations, and marketing groups in an extensive pay-to-play scheme awash with millions of dirty dollars that would have made a Latin American drug lord green with envy.
If Ms. Lynch has her way all of the perpetrators will go to jail -- some for as long as 20 years. Denial will get them nowhere and she's quite determined to make an example of a group of people used to high-living and rewarded with satchels of money delivered incognito to their hotel rooms. Blinded by big money, it's the kind of FIFA mentality that cannot see anything wrong with granting Qatar the 2022 World Cup after they dangled millions of greenbacks before their greedy and corrupt eyes.
As the big honcho sitting at the top of this garbage heap of corruption, theft and bribery, Mr. Blatter is complicit in every charge even though he himself may have escaped the long arm of the law -- for now. Quite simply, under Mr. Blatter's tenure corruption, not football excellence, is what has defined FIFA -- it's the one thing they really have exceled at. I believe that Mr. Blatter's time has come and he's on his way out. He has to go. What with the mounting dissention in FIFA's ranks and the embarrassment to countries, organizations and players.
He cannot now command the confidence and respect of international football. If he behaves pig-headed and thinks that he can continue to run FIFA --as broken as it is now -- then the organization will fall with him. As the US authorities put it: "Organized international soccer needs a new start." The time for talking and hollow, vapid promises from Mr. Blatter and company about reforming FIFA is over. We've heard that all too common refrain many times before.
What has to happen is that international sponsors, players and governments must summon up the courage to kick Mr. Blatter and the remainder of his seedy cohorts unceremoniously out of office -- if he does not resign. If they fail to do so then a pox on them for allowing a man who cast a blind eye to corruption and thievery, and who is guilty just by his association, to continue to run international football.