Corruption and Bribery within FIFA: What’s Next for Soccer’s Governing Body

“They were expected to uphold the rules that keep soccer honest, and protect the integrity of the game. Instead, they corrupted the business of worldwide soccer to serve their interests and to enrich themselves.”

-Loretta Lynch, United States Department of Justice and Attorney General

In May 2015 the U.S. Justice Department indicted 14 FIFA officials and several executives in one vast sweep, charging the individuals with racketeering, wire fraud, and money-laundering conspiracy. In December 2015, 16 more officials were charged in Switzerland in a superseding indictment. The alleged bribes and kickbacks in both indictments total over $200 million. For years there had been rumors of widespread corruption within soccer’s international governing body, but these charges still surprised the world.

A persistent rumor of corruption within FIFA relates to the bidding process to host the FIFA World Cup. The 2010 World Cup was hosted by South Africa after a typically competitive bidding process. While South Africa denies giving out bribes to secure the bid, new records show that South Africa lost the vote to Morocco, bribed Jack Warner, a FIFA Executive Committee member, and then were awarded the bid. Overall, it appears that $10 million in bribes were used to secure South Africa’s position as host. Warner, one of the high profile individuals charged in the indictment, is alleged to have had his son fly to Paris to retrieve a suitcase full of money in $10,000 bundles from a South African official, and then return the suitcase to Warner.

Now, there is an ongoing FBI investigation into the bidding process for future World Cup hosts Russia (hosting in 2018) and Qatar (hosting in 2022). The bidding process for the future tournaments occurred in 2014, with England, Spain/Portugal and Holland/Belgium in the running for 2018, and the United States, South Korea, Japan, and Australia in the running for 2022. The nations spent millions of dollars in investments to stadiums and infrastructure, celebrity endorsements, and heavy advertising campaigns hoping to woo and secure votes from FIFA officials and voting members.

When Qatar was named as host of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, most observers were extremely surprised. The country is tiny, has a horrendous human rights record, soccer games are sparsely attended and temperatures during the World Cup could reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit. While the current indictment does not address the bidding processes for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, the corrupt actions and bribery by FIFA officials in previous bidding processes show that it is very possible that similar actions were taken.

If there is evidence that Russia and Qatar used bribery to win their bids, it is likely that their hosting duties would be revoked. Each nation claims the bidding processes were free from any impropriety. As of yet, there is no evidence that there was any corruption, and the bids remain with Russia and Qatar.

In the aftermath of the DOJ indictments, FIFA President Sepp Blatter was suspended from office in December 2015, after holding the position for 17 years.

An election for the new President of FIFA is planned for February 26, 2016. There are currently six candidates for the position, most of whom have significant ties and relationships to members of the corrupt “old guard” that have been indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice. While the candidates have talked about reforming FIFA, the facts indicate that business will continue as usual. Oversight from independent, external sources seems to be the best hope for reform and transparency, rather than continuing to operate through shadowy intrigue that FIFA officials are most famous for.

Kayleigh Watson is a 3L and a Student Work Editor of the Journal of Law and International Affairs at the Penn State University Dickinson School of Law.

Citations to articles & documents are included in the aforementioned underlined hyperlinks.

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