Soccer fans this weekend saw the best of the beautiful game pushed aside by the worst. As Barcelona were dismantling Manchester United with passing and play that was textbook in perfection, the drip-drip-drip of allegations coming out of FIFA’s headquarters in Switzerland was deafening. Mohamed bin Hamman withdrew from the FIFA president’s race under the dark cloud of suspicion that he had tried to bribe voters in his election campaign. Then pictures were released allegedly showing (I kid you not) a case with $40,000 in cash that associates of CONCACAF delegate Jack Warner and bin Hamman delivered to a Caribbean delegate to buy their vote in the election.
Then the hits kept coming. FIFA’s secretary general Jerome Valcke had to deny a report that he wrote an email to Warner saying that bin Hammam thought “you can buy FIFA as they bought the WC” (WC standing for World Cup). bin Hammam is the head of the Qatar delegation, and Valcke had to issue a statement saying that, while he did write the email, he did not mean to imply the 2022 World Cup had been bought; Qatar issued a similar statement. Meanwhile, current FIFA president Sepp Blatter (who has his own ethics charges against him) gave a bizarre press conference claiming that none of these reports constituted a crisis and that tomorrow’s election for FIFA president (where he is the only candidate) should continue.
Got that? Basically, it looks like FIFA corruption (which has always been guessed at) is coming to light at a bad time; upwards of 10 of the 32 members of the sport’s governing body are under investigation for various corruption charges. The British English and Scottish FAs have publicly called for tomorrow’s vote for FIFA president to be delayed, and the British English FA has said it will abstain from voting due to the current ethics situation. [note – apologies to English and British friends for misidentifying FA. Mistakes were made]
The United States, which finished second to Qatar for the 2022 World Cup, should feel even more aggrieved than the English that their bid was possibly undermined by corruption, probably even by their own federation’s representative. So how should USSF and Sunil Gulati respond to the controversy? Should they follow the English, call for a delay in the election, and refuse to vote unless the current situation is satisfactorily resolved?
Here are my pros and cons, and please vote in the poll below:
Yes, the U.S. should follow the English and publicly condemn FIFA
- The U.S. potentially has the biggest reason to be aggrieved by this corruption. While the U.K. also lost out on a World Cup (2018), their vote was not even close. The United States, with a few votes swung their way, would have won the contest for such a lucrative and important event. If those votes were swayed illegally, then the U.S. has every right to be angry and should be a leader in trying to get to the bottom of the alleged corruption.
- A few months after the results were announced, speculation was rife on the Internet that if Qatar was not ready to host the World Cup by a certain date, the U.S. would be a very viable fall-back option. Of course FIFA would do everything in its power to prevent their gamble from failing, so this was never a really viable option. However, if these allegations are true and Qatar and its allies bought the World Cup, FIFA (assuming a change of heart) would want to distance itself from such corruption. What better way to do that then to give the 2022 World Cup to an outspoken reform proponent – the U.S. It’s a stretch, but it may be a gamble worth taking.
- An important factor to consider is FIFA’s sponsorship, the heart of their corporate enterprise. Already, some of the sponsors like Coca-Cola and Visa has expressed discontent with the current process. These are two American-based companies; if the U.S. came out publicly against current FIFA practices, then their threats may seem more legitimate and give both the corporations and the U.S. a stronger leverage point.
- What if FIFA falls? Not in the literal sense, but what if the reformers win and a cleaning process begins in FIFA headquarters? The U.S., by coming out now, can claim to be leaders with England and Scotland of the soccer reform movement.
No, the U.S. cannot afford to condemn FIFA and Sepp Blatter
- Right now, the big names calling for an election delay and reforms are England and Scotland. England is despised by FIFA leadership right now due to their investigations that started the controversy, but England will always be the country that invented soccer. As such, they will always be an important part of the soccer landscape. The U.S. is still an upstart whose soccer league is at best the fourth most important sport in the country. Coming out in front of the reform movement now could seriously harm any progress the U.S. has made in the international soccer community. In short, gambling and winning may give a very good payoff, but gambling and losing would be a huge loss.
- It’s a moot point. The FIFA elections will be held tomorrow, Blatter will be named president for a fourth term, and any consequences will take place quietly and in the future. The U.S. cannot make an impact on the process, so why lose any future clout just to make a point that will go no where?