The USA does not have much of a say on the world’s green soccer pitches. But it was the shot they fired that has made the sport’s superpower FIFA vulnerable. And that is just the beginning.
The truth is that the U.S. is definitely a dwarf in soccer compared to the size of the country, its military power and its dominance in many other sports. In 2002 they reached the quarter finals; the one and only time they were in the semi-finals was in 1930. Costa Rica, Wales and the Ivory Coast are far higher up in the world rankings than number 28.
Many Americans consider professional soccer to be a “pussy sport,” where grown men regularly mime the dying swan after the slightest physical contact. An unpleasant joke about this supposedly “un-American sport” is that foreign teams are only invited for friendly matches to lure as many illegal immigrants into the stadium as possible and then arrest them.
Now this soccer dwarf’s shot has just made FIFA, the superpower in organized sports, a vulnerable target. The USA of all countries! The prosecutors and FBI agents of the only country to play soccer in a world of football are dealing with the cynicism which the international community has long simply shrugged off: “Sure, there is cheating going on at FIFA. But there’s nothing you can do about it.”
It is not just an open secret but actual fact that there is money involved in the awarding of the television rights. The former FIFA President João Havelange cashed in several million dollars in commission payments from a FIFA-owned marketing agency but scandalously went unpunished, because he pledged to pay back the money in court.
Nine Figure Bribes
The magnanimous Swiss judges even promised the delinquent anonymity, which was uncovered through journalist’s research.
At least now nine top-ranking office holders of FIFA have been arrested, among them two representatives of the versatile President Sepp Blatter, as well as five marketing and trading rights managers, in a way the traveling salesmen of the soccer fair.
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced that they are allegedly accountable for and have received, concealed or paid bribes of about $150 million since 1990 and are now facing prison sentences of up to 20 years. All defendants are said to have committed crimes on U.S. territory or by using American banks or banknotes.
Yet, even CNN is asking the somewhat surprised question: Why does the USA, of all countries, care about this obvious swamp of corruption? It is partly due to the fact that some of the perpetrators are Americans. For example Chuck Blazer, the former general secretary of the Pan-American Concacaf, one of FIFA’s sister companies, illegally put aside nearly $11 million.
The Darker the Clouds, the More Purifying the Thunderstorm
After being exposed, he confessed and wore a wire and microphone to track down former accomplices in the hope of getting a lighter sentence. According to Lynch, it is thanks to $110 million that the Copa América, which to date has taken place in South America, will be held in the USA in 2016.
However, Americans might also have been victims of FIFA’s bribery. The 1994 World Cup host had bid again to host it in 2022 and was surprised, along with the rest of the world, when little Qatar was chosen. The Swiss authorities are now investigating.
The trials will probably reveal even more. Defendants often tend to inform on accomplices to relativize their own accountability. Is Blatter, who wants to be re-elected as FIFA president on Friday, really as innocent as he claims or did he just not use any accounts in the U.S.? The darker the clouds, the more purifying the thunderstorm. However, it will not be easy for the United States to prove how they were directly affected and that this corruption lawsuit is within their jurisdiction.
The Muscle of the World’s Police
The Los Angeles Times is already worrying that U.S. chances of being chosen for the 2026 World Cup could actually sink, especially if the smaller FIFA member states get the impression that the USA is once again playing the role of world police interfering with other people’s business.
Are the USA cowboys who assume rights when smaller countries are reduced to inaction? You could think that. But that is just one side of the coin.
As it happens, the Americans have a moral sense of mission that is supported by strong muscle. This influences the world in a good as well as a bad way, on a big and a small scale.
The U.S. intervention in Iraq — justified using false allegations against a dictator — has further destabilized an already fragile region. On the other hand, without the U.S.-led NATO intervention the bloodshed in Bosnia would have continued for longer.
Altruism is Rare in World Politics
Washington only attained a small amount of fame during the Syrian civil war; nevertheless Barack Obamas’ threat of a military strike lead to the destruction of the Assad regime’s arsenal of C-weapons.
The USA interfered more heavily and determinedly than the Europeans when pirates in Somalia threatened the international trade. Yes, they also did this out of egoistical interests in their own globalized economy. But altruism is rare in the world of politics.
Multiple times, U.S. attorneys have enforced international alliances in order to break down child pornography rings or cross-border money laundering. The question of how the United States is involved in these kind of cases is very rarely asked.
A superpower has a bigger range of action on the international stage than supporting actors. People who bemoan the USA’s superiority and their confident handling of events should ask themselves what would happen if Washington were to proceed as hesitantly as the rest of the world.
The cast of FIFA’s functionaries, at least, is probably wishing that the soccer dwarf had not gone on the offensive. Now it is leading 1-0, and the corrupt soccer managers will lose the match.