Will anything change? Ever? Has FIFA cleaned its Augean Stables of US/Latino making? Corruption, bribery, kick-backs, nepotism, favoritism – have they all disappeared, are they gone with the wind? The wind of (US-controlled) change?
“Quo vadis FIFA?”, one might ask, eight years later.
After the 2015 professionally staged and Hollywood-styled landslide of the ‘Sudden Integrity Syndrome’, duly delivered by a US Federal Prosecutor who since changed sides (as she would) only to move into a partnership in private law (for plenty of cash), and now defending the very same type of bad men whom she so desperately chased before – has anything changed?
A lot has, but none of it really has – not where it matters.
Roughly 40 perpetrators – all of them US-American, Caribbean, Central and South American without exception – have since faced US Law. All of the since levied charges are based on the type of ‘snitchdom’ that would make the 1930s fascists in Europe proud, where the sons snitched on fathers, sisters on uncles and Arians on Jews, gypsies, the disabled and homosexuals. Here, it was a very fat man, telling very fat stories. Then died. But it worked, and it works just fine.
Take a crook, offer him a deal so that he will deliver other alleged crooks to the Law, and get off scot-free in the process. Simple, isn’t it.
Jeffrey Webb is a fine case in point. Once the rising star of global football leadership, the very future of global football even, beloved and admired by the naïve thousands, he fell and fell hard. Arrested in Zurich (after he boarded a flight in Miami, USA, where it would have been much easier to arrest him – but not half as media-effective), he pleaded guilty, paid lots of money to the US State, got a foot-shackle mounted (reminding him daily of his ancestral forefathers and their slavery plight) and turned State Witness – or, as one might call it, ‘Snitch Extraordinaire’.
His sentencing has since been delayed some 12 times and will probably end in a “time served” verdict, as soon as Jack Warner is kidnapped in Trinidad, dragged into a US Government plane, delivered to NYC, formally charged, paraded before the salivating masses of good people, tried and convicted to serve the rest of his life in a US jail (that is if he doesn’t blow such a huge whistle that the entire global football management and FIFA would collapse).
In case you wondered: the ‘forceful transfer’ of a person and his/her subsequent prosecution in the US is perfectly legal under US Law. Some old-school Europeans call that kidnapping. (But hey, Guantanamo is a reality, too, isn’t it. The CIA inspired “rendition flights” are fact.)
After all, the bad men got caught [although the basis for their arrest and extradition was the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) of 1977, which is increasingly contested by the (toothless) EU], and was signed into law by a peanut farmer by name of Jimmy Carter. The referenced Act “enables US authorities to prosecute people suspected of bribery, [..] even if the offences were committed outside of the US.”
“Three categories of people are expressly targeted by the FCPA, including: […] any natural or legal person, regardless of their nationality, who has committed an act in connection with the pact of corruption from US territory or by using the US postal services or any other means or instrument of interstate commerce (USC 15, section 78dd- 3).” That would be banks, in the case of FIFA.
“Despite its efforts to counter the extraterritorial effects of US legislation, the EU is still struggling to do this efficiently. Enacting laws in the EU require approval from the 27 Member States, which can be difficult. With the United Kingdom, a somewhat notorious ally of the US, having left the EU, the situation might now change. The multiplication of EU ‘blocking’ or extraterritorial legislation in recent years could support a stronger EU sovereignty and limit future US hegemony.” (source: International Bar Association).
Forgive my excursion into the legalese, but it will be relevant next year again.
In 2024, three groups of countries will present their credentials to 211 Members of FIFA, and hope that their bids to host the 2030 FIFA World Cup will be victorious. This is of course the direct context for my narrative above.
One group consists of Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay and Chile – apparently soon to be joined by Bolivia. They all want to host the 48-team FIFA World Cup, mainly to celebrate the Centennial of the very first World Cup ever held: in Uruguay
The second group is composed of purely European countries: Spain (a loser against Russia for 2018), Portugal and Ukraine (for sympathy brownie-points, one would assume – and with a not-so virgin-like track record prior to the UEFA EURO 2012; but that’s another story entirely).
The third group includes Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Greece: three FIFA Members from three different Confederations. Smart one that.
And this is where my introduction becomes relevant. This is where some DOJ megalomaniacs, the US IRS and other three-letter worded agencies are pre-emptively salivating in glee (they love pre-emptive): if this list of countries won’t deliver ‘phantastic’ hunting grounds for US prosecutors, nothing and nobody ever will.
For starters, the majority of bribe, money laundering and corruption-convicted football officials hail from “Group One”:South America – with the Don of football malfeasance, Grondona, hailing from World Champions Argentina. (see: https://tinyurl.com/yewv8nmy)
“Group Two” has its own tale to tell. “Talk to my son if you want my vote” a Spanish VHF (‘very highflyer’) told competitors who inquired where his vote would be going for 2022. That invitation was not one for dinner, so much shall be revealed. And that guy is very former.
And in Group Two we also have: Ukraine. Everybody loves Ukraine, has to.
Except that literally everybody has forgotten that until February 2022, Ukraine was known for one thing, and one thing alone: for being one of the most corrupt countries in Europe.
In 2022, Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index ranked it 116th (of 180 countries listed). TI claimed that 23% of the public paid bribes to corrupt officials in the previous 12 months. Transparency’s latest statement says: “Before the invasion, Ukraine (scored 33 out of 100 points on the corruption index) remained at a low score but was undertaking important reforms and steadily improving. Even after the outbreak of fighting, the country has continued to prioritise anti-corruption reforms and adopted a new National Anti-Corruption Strategy last June. However, wars disrupt normal processes and exacerbate risks, allowing corrupt actors to pocket funds meant for recovery, as was seen in mid-January when investigations exposed war profiteering by the defence and communities and territories development ministries. This scandal underscores the need for reforms to prevent such violations in the future, but it is valuable that the country’s anti-corruption mechanisms are thus far holding public officials accountable.”
A Greek wedding?
Introduce “Group Three” : the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (a frequent guest in our columns), heading a group that includes its close ally Egypt and a slightly disoriented Greece – which, signed an MoU with the visiting Saudi delegation not too long ago, but where the government is in a bit of a bind: in April or May, a general election will test PM Misotakis’ New Democracy (ND) government, and it is expected that the first round will not deliver a clear majority. The second round is expected for 30 days later – and it will determine Greece’s future four years but also, its intended partnership with Saudi Arabia.
It is generally expected that business leaders will be vastly in favour of a joint bid, whereas opposition parties are less than keen. What the joint tripartite trans-Confederation bid will do, is make life difficult for UEFA’s leadership. It is expected that the European confederation will throw its full weight behind the European bidders, but the Greeks being potentially part of the Saudi bid might become a pebble nobody wants to have in their shoe.
But all this is not about tactics, politics and who will support whom.
Based on my introduction, this is very much about FIFA’s (in)ability to get a clean voting process done, even if this time it is not a group of 20 greedy old men who determine the outcome. It will be 211 (mostly men) who have their say. Get the popcorn ready.
Murky FIFA waters
With the present structure, and with FIFA boss Gianni Infantino having literally annexed and re-colonised CAF, a bit desperately cosied up to the AFC and hating anything UEFA (from where he hails), things might look murky. Not forgotten are the FIFA Chief’s remarkable – if not revolutionary – antics, when he tried to ‘privatise’ FIFA with the help of Softbank and lots of money, $20 billion in fact, supplied by Saudi, reportedly. Japanese Softbank’s Saudi ties are multiple. But its fortunes took a tumble of late: yesterday, this headline made the rounds in financial circles: SoftBank virtually halts new funding as it contends with persistent losses. If the Saudis are as kind as they are to fledgling Credit Suisse, which is just about surviving thanks to massive Saudi and Qatari cash-infusions, everything would be fine and dandy. If not, we’ll see.
So what do these clues tell the savvy reader?
There are three groups bidding for the 2030 FIFA World Cup. One has issues with recent history and is US Law Enforcement’s favourite child. The second has a war in its midst, a history of corrupt practices and a loser heading its bid. And the third, well, the third has a man at its helm whose nickname is MBS, and who is not a favourite of US Central Intelligence. It also has a tormented history of mass hangings (just a few days ago, again), human rights abuses (as Amnesty and Human Rights Watch keep claiming) and migrant workers pain, not much different from the Qatari experience (who, it must be acknowledged, did more to abolish the kafala system than any other state in the Gulf).
What to do?
The FIFA world can look forward to controversy over controversy, difficulty over difficulty, inept communication (as is and was) and scandals brewing already before the official race has even started.
What to do then, so as not to allow the US cleanliness to come galloping as the off-white knight in smudgy armour?
- Do not use US banks or their subsidiaries, branches or daughters anywhere in the world. Anywhere.
- Do not transact as much as One US Dollar ever, anywhere, for anything (mind you, that message has got across it seems in many quarters, with the BRICS countries doing their thing and bilaterally accepting each other’s currencies for trade).
- Do not engage with US companies or their subsidiaries and affiliates throughout the bidding campaign and do not use any US resources ever (even if some Members of those three groups will be so very tempted to employ the likes of GRA, no doubt. Not a good idea).
- Stay away from US spooks who come in all sorts of shapes, forms and disguises ‘businessmen who want to help’, ‘ex-CIA who know things’, ‘professionals who can do solid opposition research’, ‘the likes of Nix’ funded by Palantir, etc’. No matter how they proclaim loyalty, you’ll end up in a NYC court room, sooner rather than later.
- Pegasus in all sorts of variations – and Indian hackers of the ‘post-Appin’ style.
Of course all of these recommendations are only made for those who won’t and don’t plan to play by the book.
The problem is that FIFA’s book is written in disappearing ink.
And its author is not necessarily the most gifted of all authors this multipolar world has ever seen.
James Dostoyevsky was a Washington-based author until the end of 2018, where he reported on sports politics and socio-cultural topics. He returned to Europe in 2019 and continues to follow football politics – presently with an emphasis on the Middle East, Europe and Africa.