FIFA plays victim, goes after Chuck Blazer

FIFA is suing Chuck Blazer and cohort Jack Warner (and Jeffrey Web, who replaced Warner at the head of CONCACAF) to try to claw back some of the millions in bribe money the men collected selling media and marketing rights to FIFA and CONCACAF matches. Good luck finding those funds.

FIFA is playing the victim, and it is … partially. There are thousands of people linked to the global soccer system who aren’t guilty of any of the FIFA or regional association crimes and are appalled at the corruption. But that’s hard to imagine for anyone at the top of the FIFA pyramid, where members of the executive committee have operated in secrecy, accountable to no one, for decades. FIFA suing its own former leaders is a bit like the Vatican suing its pedophile priests and the archbishops who knew about them.

The fact is that payoffs — and secrecy about them — have been part of the culture of the FIFA Ex-Co at least since the reign of former president Jose Havelange. A “little bit” off the top for every FIFA deal for one’s personal bank account was practically de riguer; leaders considered the stream of bribe money their extra and well-deserved “commissions,” investigators have told us. They took what they considered some reasonable — to them —percentage of the business on top of their salaries and countless perks; the illegal take grew proportionally along with FIFA income. Jack Warner seemed to require much more than the standard take, but Blazer generally stuck to his 10 percent — even agreeing to a 10 percent portion of the $10 million bribe that landed the 2010 World Cup for South Africa, according to Blazer’s own account. 

Havelange referred to his payoffs as legitimate “remuneration,” after officials discovered he had personally received millions from the soon-to-be bankrupt International Sports and Leisure corporation in exchange for marketing and media rights. “During the period of time in which I was FIFA president and Mr. Joseph Blatter was the general secretary, I maintained commercial relationships with sports marketing companies which were under my economic control, and, as a result of this relationship, I received remunerations,” Havelange said in a letter obtained by the FBI.

The FIFA lawsuit does serve to provide a helpful perspective on the corruption case. The crimes can often seem like not much more than rich guys ripping off rich guys — or sticking their hands in the till of some mega-wealthy media or marketing company. But what the crooks were selling were “properties” — like the World Cup — that legitimately belonged to FIFA, and to the world of soccer and its fans, not to the individuals selling the contests for what they were worth, but pocketing a significant portion of that value year after year. They haven’t only stolen money but the very legitimacy of the organization. “Their actions have deeply tarnished the FIFA brand and impaired FIFA's ability to use its resources for positive actions throughout the world, and to meet its global mission of supporting and enhancing the game of football," the organization’s lawsuit reads. 

Stolen dollars “were meant to build football fields, not mansions and pools; to buy football kits, not jewelry and cars; and to fund youth player and coach development, not to underwrite lavish lifestyles for football and sports marketing executives," FIFA’s recently elected President Gianni Infantino said in a statement.

But did some of the leaders bring corruption to the organization, or did they learn the payoff ropes immersed in the FIFA help-yourself culture? They likely fueled one another to greater and greater offshore bank account heights.