"Those who walk in innocence will be safe, but those who go on twisted paths will fall suddenly." Proverbs 28:18
"Do not take a bribe, for bribes blind the eyes of those that are wise… Justice, justice shall you pursue…" Deuteronomy 16:19-20
Listen, I don’t mean to get all biblical. I really try not to mix soccer and my rabbi-ing. But damn it if Sepp Blatter doesn’t make it so easy for me to combine my work life (yes, I'm really a rabbi) and soccer life. FIFA under the leadership of Sepp Blatter has a long and well-documented history of malfeasance and corruption. In short, under Blatter:
• FIFA has been run without transparence or open governance; what masquerades as a ‘democratic’ institution is really nothing more than a petty feudal fiefdom, or at worst, a tyrannical dictatorship.
• From the doling out of leadership positions, to getting benefits for kowtowing to Blatter, to the actual selecting of World Cup sites in Russia and Qatar, bribery is the norm in this organization. Bribes are not only accepted; they are expected and even encouraged, for anything and everything.
• FIFA’s criteria for hosting the World Cup is to wine and dine the executive committee and promise to waste billions on unnecessary stadia in far flung corners of a country, which are often rendered useless after the big event. The leaders of a potential host nation are highly persuaded (or straight up bribed) to do something in their best interests, but it is never in their citizen’s best interests.
• Qatar is using slaves to build its stadiums. It is killing them at an appauling rate. Rather than manage the situation, FIFA has chosen to protect Qatar’s injustices.
If you aren’t up on all these details, watch Jeremy Schaaps fantastic E:60 on Sepp Blatter last week. Or listen to Howler Magazine’s ‘Dummy' podcast. Or read David Goldblatt’s epic tome, ‘The Ball is Round’ for the entire history and evolution of FIFA from a humble little office to a shady and octopus-armed bureaucracy. Or read buzzfeed’s (yes, that buzzfeed!) longform piece on Chuck Blazer and CONCACAF and his Manhattan penthouse for cats.
These indictments revealed today by the US Department of Justice are staggering in their impact and scope. Some on twitter have argued that this is payback for not giving the US the 2022 World Cup. I disagree. My take is that the US did this for two reasons:
1) there is a degree of corruption, even with the largest and most powerful organizations, that cannot be ignored if it takes place on US soil. FIFA not only crossed the line; it long jumped over it. How the hell does Jack Warner think having $10 million wired to a US bank account WOULDN’T raise eyebrows?
2) The DOJ knew it couldn’t reach Sepp Blatter with its evidence. So it did the next best thing: it announced that all of Sepp Blatter’s people were corrupt just a few days before the entire world voted on Sepp Blatter.
This leads us to a bunch of really interesting questions, which I’m just going to leave unanswered:
• To what degree will these indictments affect US Soccer and Sunil Gulati?
• Will these indictments lead the heads of FIFA to elect a new head on May 29?
• How would the World Cup bidding process look if it were actually transparent, and fair, and meant to benefit the citizens of the host country?
• Is FIFA savable, or are we entering the rhelm of needing to blow it all up and start again? Perhaps with a world soccer acronym that isn’t in French?
• Will Qatar 2022 survive this?
• What does this mean for the 2028 World Cup?
Regardless of the answer to these, I hope the end result of this criminal trial is a better system for world soccer. At the very least, I hope we’ve hit rock bottom. It all depends on whether Bladder is re-elected for his
6th 5th term. We’ll find out this Friday.