Bribery Scandal: FIFA, a Victim?

The recent headlines regarding scandal-ridden FIFA, the governing body for international football, might surprise some, and they certainly provide an interesting twist to the saga. FIFA’s latest move is to petition the United States for “tens of millions of dollars” it claims – and admits – were lost through bribery, kickbacks and other corruption schemes.

The move signals a new chapter in the scandal, which is now nearly about a year old. It is the most official acknowledgment yet from FIFA that the widespread corruption did indeed occur, and vote selling and other payoffs directly impacted bidding processes – in particular, the winning bid for South Africa to host the 2010 World Cup.

According to BBC Sports Editor Dan Roan, the move shouldn’t be seen as a surprise:

Fifa's survival depends on it retaining the victim status afforded it by the US Department of Justice and this helps reinforce the narrative that it was the injured party in football's corruption scandal, rather than the perpetrator.

With millions of dollars being spent each month on lawyers to clean up the scandal, as well as the loss of key sponsors, Fifa could do with the money.

Many media outlets, especially those in the U.S., weren’t very charitable about the move from FIFA. NBC News, for example, ran with the following headline: “FIFA Demands Millions in Restitution From U.S. — for Its Own Misdeeds.” The tenor of the article itself mostly matches the irony-laden headline.

FIFA, the disgraced governing body of world soccer, is demanding tens of millions of dollars from the U.S. government as restitution for bribes and benefits paid to its own former leaders, according to court documents.

Since a joint U.S. – Swiss raid on FIFA offices in Switzerland, and the arrests of several highly placed FIFA officials, nearly a year ago, the breadth of the scandal has only continued to grow. Most recently, on February 19, Sepp Blatter insisted that Qattar won bidding for the 2022 World Cup fairly.

Only two months earlier, in December, Blatter was banned for eight years from all football-related activities. The ban comes from FIFA’s ethics committee. UEFA President Michel Platini was also banned for eight years.

Also, on February 23, Prince Ali appealed to have FIFA elections suspended in the name of establishing better transparency for the voting process (his request for transparent voting booths was refused). His appeal was rejected. And on February 25, FIFA’s ethics committee opened proceedings against CONMEBOL vice presidents Luis Bedoya and Sergio Jadue. Both are expected to be banned, no surprise considering each pleaded guilty to charges of racketeering conspiracy and wire fraud conspiracy.

At the same time, Blatter and Platini's bans were reduced to six years. But anyone who has followed Sepp Blatter over the years knows that we haven’t heard the last of him ... even if he is relegated to media interviews in which he continues to plead innocence or ignorance – ignorance of rampant corruption within the organization he led for nearly 20 years.