The Scrapbook is willing to wager that, until last week, the vast majority of Americans had never heard of FIFA, the governing body of association football (soccer), headquartered in Zurich. Among other things, FIFA runs the popular World Cup tournament every four years; perhaps more important, FIFA also decides where the World Cup tournaments are held.
On May 27, in a series of spectacular raids in Switzerland and Florida, the U.S. Department of Justice and Swiss police rounded up nine FIFA officials and five sports marketing executives (only a few of them Americans) and charged them with multiple counts of corruption and racketeering. Attorney General Loretta Lynch accused FIFA, in general, of “rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted” corruption, and the executives, in particular, of corruptly deciding “who would televise games, where the games would be held, and who would run the organization overseeing organized soccer worldwide.”
“This is the beginning, not the end,” said a U.S. Attorney.
On the following morning, the Washington Post (among many others) was ecstatic. “Soccer is a game, a beautiful game,” the Post declared, “but it isn’t only a game. It is a global cultural obsession.” Which may well be true, in certain circles and places. But that still doesn’t answer The Scrapbook’s question: What is the interest of the United States government in the integrity of soccer?
So far as The Scrapbook is aware, FIFA—the acronym (in French) for the International Federation of Association Football—is a private sports consortium, and membership in FIFA is voluntary. It is not an agency of government, nor an American organization, nor a recipient of American taxpayer funds. The goodness or badness of FIFA, in short, is soccer’s problem, not Washington’s.
Now, The Scrapbook has no doubt that many of the accusations hurled at FIFA—executive greed, rampant cronyism, truckling to dictators—are true; they have certainly been the subject of press stories and public complaint for years. And it may well be unseemly that countries blessed with natural resources and little else (Qatar, for example, site of the 2022 World Cup) seem to throw their money around in Zurich to good effect. But how FIFA spends its oil-sheikh income, or grants favors to highest bidders, is a challenge for FIFA and its member-nations, not the Department of Justice. Cronyism and truckling to dictators are not good things; but are they against the law, or confined to FIFA?
Indeed, one telling detail of this story has been the near-universal joy expressed in Europe. Our friends across the Atlantic are not usually so well disposed to extraordinary expansions of American jurisdiction; but
in this case, at least, the cavalry is welcome because the members of FIFA seem unable to govern themselves.
To which The Scrapbook responds: This is not the Second World War. It is a management problem for a private professional sports organization. Even the Washington Post admits that the case is largely symbolic, inspired by soccer’s “cultural” significance and prompted by FIFA’s award of the 2018 World Cup tournament to Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
Well, if symbolism in sports is now subject to American law, will the Justice Department issue guidelines on football inflation, or racial quotas for the NBA, or sue to get Pete Rose inducted to the Hall of Fame?