Today, I continue my (now) four-part series on the above question posed to me recently by a colleague. (I know I wrote that it would be a three-part series but as usual I got carried away when I started writing.) Yesterday, I wrote that only the US government had the wherewithal, tools and will to do so. Today, I focus on the second of my four reasons on why Americans should care about the Department of Justice (DOJ) bringing their indictments against the 14 named defendants who were all associated with the governing body of international soccer, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA). Up today is the corruption in the game of international soccer (AKA Football).
Corruption never stands alone because once bribes are paid for one thing, a business, entity or person opens themselves up to other situations involving bribery and corruption. So if a company hires someone with a propensity to pay bribes, such a person would have no compunction in defrauding the company in other ways. Put another way, a tiger doesn’t change its stripes very often. Take South Africa, the country which is alleged to have paid Jack Warner a $10MM bribe to secure his vote and the votes of those in the regional soccer federation he controlled, CONCACAF, to be awarded the right to host the 2010 World Cup.
Last year the New York Times (NYT) reported that the entire FIFA referee system came under great concern because of match-fixing allegations that swirled around the South African soccer federation. Given what we know now about how that organization operated is it any wonder other parts would be corrupt? And it turned out that FIFA knew about it all along.
In a NYT 2014 ‘Rigged’ two part series, entitled “Fixed Soccer Matches Cast Shadow Over World Cup” and “Inside the Fixing: How a Gang Battered Soccer’s Frail Integrity”, reporters Declan Hill and Jeré Longman wrote about a NYT investigation of match fixing ahead of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. The articles provided an unusually detailed look at the ease with which professional gamblers can fix matches. The article reviewed an “internal, confidential report by FIFA, soccer’s world governing body. FIFA’s investigative report and related documents, which were obtained by The New York Times and have not been publicly released, raise serious questions about the vulnerability of the World Cup to match fixing.” The reporters noted that the FIFA “report found that the match-rigging syndicate and its referees infiltrated the upper reaches of global soccer in order to fix exhibition matches and exploit them for betting purposes. It provided extensive details of the clever and brazen ways that fixers apparently manipulated “at least five matches and possibly more” in South Africa ahead of the World Cup. As many as 15 matches were targets, including a game between the United States and Australia, according to interviews and emails printed in the FIFA report.”
These NYT articles detailed how betting syndicates would target the national football associations that are charged with selecting and supplying the referees in international matches. The articles pointed out how the betting syndicates would find the weakest link in any security or compliance system and then exploit it. In the 2010 World Cup it was both the South African football association that signed contracts and its allowing the betting syndicates to select the referees for games to actually bribery of referees themselves which were the root causes of the corruption.
Imagine the difference if the South African soccer federation was not corrupt and had won the rights to host the 2010 World Cup on the strength of their bid, not their payment of bribes. Think the tone down through organization about corruption and bribery would have been any different if down the line, they knew the top of the organization was committed to winning the bid (and did so) through legal means?
Yet the corruption of individual soccer matches at the international level continued into the 2014 World Cup. In a The Telegraph article, entitled “Football match-fixing: Ghana deal casts cloud over World Cup finals in Brazil”, reporters Claire Newell, Holly Watt and Ben Bryant detailed that the “Ghana Football Association calls in police after undercover investigation by The Telegraph and Channel Four’s Dispatches programme finds that the President of Ghana’s FA agreed for the team to play in international matches that others were prepared to rig.”
They wrote, “The president of the country’s football association then met the undercover reporter and investigator, along with Mr Forsythe and Mr Nketiah, and agreed a contract which would see the team play in the rigged matches, in return for payment. The contract stated that it would cost $170,000 (£100,000) for each match organised by the fixers involving the Ghanaian team, and would allow a bogus investment firm to appoint match officials, in breach of Fifa rules. “You [the company] will always have to come to us and say how you want it to go…the result,” said Mr Forsythe. “That’s why we will get the officials that we have greased their palms, so they will do it. If we bring in our own officials to do the match… You’re making your money. You have to give them [the referees] something… they are going to do a lot of work for you, so you have to give them something,” said Mr Nketiah, who is also the chief executive of the Ghanaian football club Berekum Chelsea and sits on the management committee of the Ghana U20 national team.”
In a meeting prior to the 2014 World Cup, when Ghana was playing warm-up matches in the US, Forsythe and Nketiah introduced the undercover team to Kwesi Nyantakyi, the president of the Ghana FA. In a meeting in “Florida, the president agreed to a contract that stated each match would cost the investment company $170,000 and that they could appoint the match officials for each game. A contract was drawn up that specified that “The Company will appoint and pay for the cost of the referees/match officials in consultation with an agreed Fifa Member association(s),” in direct breach of the rules that prohibit third parties from appointing officials, in order to protect their impartiality. During the meeting, the president suggested that the fictional investment company put on two matches after the World Cup to prove that they were able to organise games.”
But even more troubling is that FIFA itself has directly affected the integrity of international soccer. In an article in The Sunday Times, entitled “Special One appalled by €5m Fifa payment”, reporter Jonathan Northcraft wrote about the reaction of Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho (AKA the ‘Special One’) to the revelations that the FIFA Executive Committee paid the Football Association of Ireland, €5 million in bribe money “to drop legal action after a controversial goal gave France victory over Ireland in a playoff for the 2010 World Cup.” The issue revolved around the on-field illegal handball played by French striker Thierry Henry that “went unsanctioned in the second leg of their playoff in 2009. The FAI launched a legal appeal to become the ‘33rd team’ at the World Cup but stopped proceedings after receiving the payment from Fifa.”
So now the FIFA scandal has gone from paying bribes to fixing game venues to corrupting contracts to changing how games are decided. Mourinho was quoted, “This one, for me, is the end of the world. You change the truth of the game for €5m? What next? Because more stories will come for sure.”
Why should Americans care about the about FIFA indictments? I realize that most Americans do not hold the game of international soccer with the same passion as the rest of the world. But for anyone who loves sports, to have the worlds most premier sporting championship tinged with corruption and evidence of match fixing, as the Special One said, changes the truth of the game. That would seem to me to be reason enough to care.