After court documents were released today revealing that former CONCACAF General Secretary and US Soccer Executive Vice President Chuck Blazer admitted accepting bribes in the voting for host nations for World Cups 1998 and 2010, as well as bribes involving broadcast rights for five Gold Cup tournaments (from 1996 to 2003), the questions have to be asked: What did US Soccer know about these incidents? And when did they know it?
After all, Chuck Blazer is a man that was so deeply entrenched within the US Soccer machine that in the same year that Blazer resigned from CONCACAF, MLS Commissioner Don Garber said, “Everybody who cares about the sport in this country owes [Chuck Blazer] a debt of gratitude.”
Five years earlier, in 2006, Blazer received the Commissioner’s Award from MLS for his “overall contributions to the sport and the game.”
“Chuck is one of the most important people in the history of soccer in this country. Those in the soccer business know how important he is to the development of this sport and management of this sport throughout North America,” Garber said. “Not every American knows that the man behind the scenes pushing this sport is Chuck and for that he is very worthy of being recognized by MLS and by our ownership.”
Garber added, “His support for us started long before his support on television. It’s far deeper than that. It’s not about one specific thing, it’s about what influence he’s had over the last 10 years.
“We have an American that sits at the most influential level in FIFA on the Executive Committee not just representing the U.S. but representing all of the countries within CONCACAF and all of the leagues within CONCACAF. He’s just unbelievably important to where we are today and where we’re going to be in the future.”
In the chaos of the FIFA indictment package that came down last week, the involvement of the United States Soccer Federation has been largely ignored. This is not to say that anyone in the USSF took bribes or kickbacks as those convicted CONCACAF and CONMEBOL executives are accused of doing, but why, aside from the cursory statements from the USSF, MLS and NASL have we not heard from Sunil Gulati or former USSF head Robert Contiguglia in further detail?
Have these men kept quiet because they didn’t know what was going on behind the scenes?
Could it be possible that Gulati was completely oblivious to what Blazer was doing even though, as Charlie Stillitano recently revealed on Sirius XM, that Gulati and Blazer were best friends?
The entirety of the US Soccer landscape can be categorized in the battle between Soccer United Marketing (SUM) and Traffic Sports, the two major soccer marketing companies who do business marketing MLS and CONCACAF events here and around the world. Traffic was nailed in the indictments handed down by the United States Department of Justice and FBI; more than any other company and organization, and the USSF had to deal with them even before SUM came into existence. Could it be possible that the heads of the USSF knew what was going on inside Traffic? Possibly, but that is unlikely. There is a reason why the Gold Cup tournaments from 2005-2011 were not mentioned in the indictments.
The USSF is still, along with FEMEX, the most powerful soccer federation in CONCACAF, and even if they don’t use the power they have, they can force their influence on everyone else if they want to. With Sunil Gulati on FIFA’s ExCo, he decided, and probably rightly so, to try to subtlety influence change at FIFA from the inside, instead of shouting about it like the FA in England have done, and which UEFA has started to do. Gulati may have expected that the 2022 World Cup would be pulled from Qatar in any instance (because Western business ideals and customs would assume that being the next logical step based on what has happened), but he did not bank on FIFA being irrationally steadfast to hold a tournament in the summer in a place hotter on average than Death Valley?
Gulati then shouted from the rooftop that he was going to vote for Prince Ali, after he had made subtle gestures for years that he was uninterested in playing FIFA’s games. Did he know about the FBI investigation? Unlikely. Did he feel miffed at losing a World Cup bid that, with a fair and clean election his country would have likely won? Possibly. The public dissidence from the USSF towards FIFA has only gotten louder as the number of reports on FIFA has increased.
Why did the USSF stay silent for all of these years about executives inside CONCACAF, including Americans whose hands were dirty, especially Chuck Blazer and others such as those who worked in Traffic Sports? FIFA curries favor brilliantly with nations that are soccer backwaters; giving them unmonitored money to build football infrastructure, or at least that’s what it says on the tin. Until recently, the US was one of those nations. MLS was a fledgling league that nearly went bust, and below it there was (is) an organized chaos of a league structure ripe for companies like Traffic to maintain their influence. And they play in a federation that, before their own rise, had one dominant power and a plethora of little minnows like them, until they awoke from their soccer slumber. Once the sport attracted more viewers and followers from outside the typical soccer circles, it was natural new opinions would enter the room.
Sepp Blatter, Jack Warner and Vladimir Putin railing against another case of “American Exceptionalism” are trying to divert attention from the real story: This is the tip of an incredibly deep iceberg. It’s pointless for Sunil Gulati to lay out his cards now, because there are so many other moves to come. They won’t necessarily involve him, but CONCACAF could be further affected and he needs to maintain what little favor he has left inside Zurich and Miami so he can further position himself for a move up the food chain. The USSF is just starting to realize what power it has in the world game because of the forces behind it, but is afraid to use it for the fear of the same backlash that has kept Sepp Blatter in power for so long.
But in essence, everyone is in a holding pattern. The world is waiting for these accused officials to be extradited to the US so more dirt can be dug up, and more indictments can be made. Attacking CONCACAF and CONMEBOL corruption because someone neglected to file tax returns is one thing (and because the sloppy wire work was done at US banks), but reaching even further is going to be even more of a challenge. How long it will take, no one knows.
It’ll be intriguing to see how hard the US soccer media push USSF and MLS to answer the tough questions regarding what they knew, when they knew it and why they’ve remained eerily silent other than brief statements about the FIFA Presidency.
The story is far from over.