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US Soccer’s prior knowledge of FIFA’s criminal wrongdoing raises more questions than answers

Sunil Gulati, Dan Flynn

I’m always surprised when I hear stories about how some people never knew that their closest friends were involved in corruption.  In the modern world, let’s forget about soccer for a second, how can you NOT know something is going on right next to you with the amount of information that is available to us all?

After it was revealed that Chuck Blazer made corrupt deals on American soil for more than a decade, did many in the media here in the US decide to go silent or take a more nonchalant role in investigating the connection with US soccer?  Sure, they did.  Why? There were many things going on in the sports calendar, no doubt. Yet it was a story that was pertinent to what was going on in FIFA. But more attention should have been paid to it, not brushed aside the way it was by many.

In Wednesday’s US Senate panel hearing on corruption in soccer, some of the Spanish-language US media outlets such as ESPN Deportes played excerpts of the hearing and discussed what went on.  Some went as far as saying that ‘it might not be a lot, but it is a first step.’  It did leave US Soccer (especially Sunil Gulati) in a negative light within the international community because of the monk-like silence he has decided to take on throughout this entire ordeal.

During the US Senate panel hearing, US Soccer Federation CEO Dan Flynn said, “I was aware of some level of discomfort but it was all a general feeling. So, I had no hard evidence and we wanted to continue to participate in trying to influence (FIFA) as one of 209 members.”

However, Flynn later conceded that USSF decided to play ball with the likes of Blazer and Warner rather than follow-up on what was causing the “level of discomfort” because “we had other things to do to help build our sport.”

SEE MOREThe reaction from US soccer media to US Senate hearing on corruption in soccer.

While many in English were already nominating Sunil Gulati for canonization and propping him up as the next president of FIFA after the DOJ and FBI did all of the hard work to begin prosecuting corrupt CONCACAF and FIFA officials, there were some that asked the big question: “How did Gulati not know about Chuck Blazer and Jeffrey Webb and Eduardo Li?” These were individuals that he fraternized with at the Paradise Island hotel in the Bahamas back in April.

People forget that CONCACAF was a united front.  Every member of CONCACAF voted UNANIMOUSLY for Jeffrey Webb to continue his tenure as leader of a “reformed” federation.

International publications such as Marca and The Guardian weighed in on these topics, and even the highly-rated Jorge Ramos show on ESPN Deportes spoke extensively about the issues.  So, the belief that some elements of the press have not been “caring” or “brushing it aside” is not true.  Truth be told, a hearing where no one was subpoenaed or sworn in takes a bit out of this all.  Yet seeing Dan Flynn squirm like a kid that didn’t study for a pop quiz said volumes.

It’s quite amazing that Gulati, an executive committee member, did not know that money for the Goal Project has gone missing in various parts of CONCACAF.  It was amazing to know that someone so high up in the spheres of power at an organization has absolutely no clue as to what is going on around him.

SEE MORE — Choice quotes from US Senate panel hearing into soccer corruption.

Investigative reporter Andrew Jennings said his piece, albeit in interrupted fashion.  He hit some points, but he just enjoyed being in front of the mic and wanted to be the star.  Unfortunately, for him he wasn’t granted the spotlight he so direly longed for.

That spotlight went to Dan Flynn.  He pretty much put himself in the hole from the get go. His contradictions were prevalent from the beginning.  He went from not knowing anything about corruption to feeling “discomfort” about what was going on in CONCACAF elections where Jack Warner asked for “sealed votes.”  If he was so uncomfortable, then why didn’t he file a complaint or do something about it?

The way the FIFA culture works is that it’s focused on cooperation and enabling (looking the other way).  Ask individuals like former CONCACAF senior vice-president Lyle Austin or longtime head of the St. Kitts and Nevis FA Peter Jenkins as to what happens when you don’t follow the script.

Going back to the US Senate panel hearing for a minute, do these politicians care about soccer in this country in the grand scheme of things? I could probably count more people that consider underwater basketweaving as a source of employment.

Is the Senate going to be the answer to clean up the sport’s organizing body?  Well, we saw how effective the government was in getting steroids out of baseball.  Let’s be honest, the only reason the US government got involved was because of CONCACAF’s brashness in using banks here for their activities. That, and not paying taxes, are going to whip up the most ire from Uncle Sam.

The amounts of money moved around made American politicians realize it’s big business. Is it part of a political charade? Maybe.  It doesn’t take much to appease constituents when it comes to these types of issues, especially when the Iran deal and Greece’s austerity package are still dominating news cycles on and off of Capitol Hill.

There have been some wonderful stories that have emerged because of the rapid evolution of soccer in this country. Everything from the national team to the players that leave it all out on the pitch in the domestic leagues, to the fans, make the US such a great story.  They make you crack a smile because you remember the days when the mainstream in the US featured soccer as the butt of all jokes.

I am not writing this to make you think anyone is guilty of anything. That road is still a long one and there will probably be other names that fall sooner rather than later. I am writing this to make you think. A great part of this country’s media failed in stimulating you into doing exactly that. That is where “we,” and I include myself, have come up short.  Why?  As Senator Blumenthal said the “silence is deafening, and sometimes inaction signals complicity.” Our omission shows exactly that.

To what extent, well, that question has to be answered by all of us because we’ve failed the people that look to us to inform them, not tell them that all is good.  Those same people that are looking to be informed are the number one reason why the sport has grown and they deserve that more than anyone else.


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  1. erico

    July 28, 2015 at 10:49 am

    I come to this site periodically when I have time to enjoy spending some hours catching up on things, so I often end up reading the good stuff too late to be making comments. However, I would absolutely hate feeling like I’m contributing to an impression that nobody is reading something like this or supporting the points made here.

    I’m a bit shocked actually that there have been no earlier comments. Its a shame I can’t even click a button that shows I read it and enjoyed it and hope to see more from the author and others on this topic. But whatever, its worth the embarrassment of commenting on an old article to show support.

    There are certainly those who have pointed out that sports journalism has often (if not almost always these days) sold out for access, prestige, personal gain, power. Whatever people think about Olbermann, his rants on this are spot on. I think it may fall to non-traditional outlets like this site to ask tough questions and speak truth to power when nobody else takes the risk.

    • Christopher Harris

      July 28, 2015 at 11:17 am

      Thanks Erico. That means a lot. Sometimes when there are no comments, the readers are in agreement with the article and have nothing to add. But it’s always good to hear the feedback of readers, so I appreciate your kind words.

      As an aside, from my own personal observations, the US soccer media and public are quick to vilify Sepp Blatter (and rightly so), but when the questions are asked about its own federation, people don’t want to hear that. It’s much easier focusing on the bad guy, i.e. the foreigner.

      • erico

        July 28, 2015 at 12:16 pm

        You are very welcome! I don’t usually participate in online conversation, its often absolutely toxic and vicious, but I try to force myself to make a comment when I see a voice expressing something that I feel is important but perhaps unpopular.

        And yeah, your observations mirror my own, and that even as a casual dabbler in sports media (I mostly watch the sport itself lol).

        What I think is astonishing is that as Declan Hill has pointed out quite convincingly, north American soccer is particularly conducive to corruption and match fixing (his detailed reasons are easy enough to find so I won’t repeat them) and yet everyone seems to prefer remaining dumb and blind to an embarrassing degree. Xenophobia is clearly a factor. Everyone seems casually cynical and contemptuous about CONCACAF, the poorer darker countries anyway, but willfully ignorant at how similar things might actually be above the tortilla curtain.

        If rich, ancient, prestigious soccer nations like Italy, Germany, Spain etc can be devastated by ongoing corruption and match fixing, what sort of delusion makes people think it ‘can’t happen here’? Especially when corruption of the other big american sports is established fact already?

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