U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati and MLS Commissioner Don Garber have an ethical obligation to either lead FIFA down a path of reinvention or push for its replacement by a better organization.
By Carlos G Giron
Introductory note: This month, the United States is hosting Copa America Centenario, the history-making tournament that for the first time brings together the best national teams from CONCACAF and CONMEBOL to officially crown a consolidated champion of the Americas.
This is a timely occasion to revisit where the FIFA corruption scandal stands and what the role of the “U.S. Soccer Establishment” ought to be.
New York, NY (June 4, 2015) United States Attorney General Loretta Lynn and FBI Director James Comey did their job.
Their comprehensive criminal investigation into the inner workings of FIFA, shook the corrupt foundations of the so called “world’s soccer governing body.”
To date, more than 20 FIFA executives stand accused of corruption. Five have already been found guilty, including former FIFA Executive Committee Member and CONCACAF General Secretary Chuck Blazer, who played the most significant role in the investigation and was heavily involved in the corruption itself.
All these officials stand accused of abusing their positions of trust to acquire millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks.
Keep in mind that the U.S. investigation is limited to prosecution of cases where law enforcement officials can establish “a minor connection to the United States.” Thus, any other corrupt activities conducted by FIFA officials that do not meet this criteria are not within the reach of U.S. law enforcement authorities.
Given the depth and breadth of the wrongdoing uncovered by the office of the U.S. Attorney General and FBI Director it is abundantly clear that this pattern of behaviour is likely to be prevalent throughout the FIFA global footprint.
American soccer officials, including U.S. Soccer President and FIFA Executive Committee Member Sunil Gulati and MLS Commissioner Don Garber seem to be going along with the official FIFA posture: “We will do our best to reform FIFA from the inside.” In other words: “Let the wolves supervise the wolves.”
Well, “the wolves” never allow outsiders to get in their way as evidenced by their wanton disregard of the findings of independent investigator Michael Garcia, a former U.S. Attorney, back in 2014. There are also fresh reports that the brand new FIFA President Gianni Infantino, supposedly “a reformer,” wants nothing to do with FIFA audit and compliance chairman Domenico Scala. Infantino’s “beef” with Scala? You guessed it. Money. Big money.
Infantino is reportedly “offended” by his $2 million per year contract. He wants “Blatter money,” at least $4 million annually.
News reports also indicate that three former FIFA officials, including ex-president Blatter, conducted a “coordinated effort to enrich themselves” to the tune of 55 million euros in the last 5 years.
As expected by many skeptics, FIFA insider, Infantino, the former UEFA general secretary, appears to be “a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
A Swiss anti-corruption expert said to AFP that Infantino has “dropped the mask” of being a reformer. “He revealed his true motives and personality…it reminds me of the worst years.”
The United States has a long and proud history of tough and reliable law enforcement standing against white-collar crime and corruption. This is not a time to let up.
Now we need the United States soccer establishment to take the bull by the horns and demand a real transformation or else the elimination of FIFA. The U.S. soccer establishment also includes official FIFA corporate sponsors including several U.S. multinationals Coca–Cola, Visa, McDonald’s and Budweiser.
Real reform could and should include term limits for all members of the FIFA Executive Committee, as well as the presidents and members of the executive committees of Confederations and national associations worldwide. Having a regular rotation of executives would infuse “New blood” along with new ideas and, hopefully, some integrity. This would disrupt the creation of “Fiefdoms of Power”, which so often result in graft and nepotism.
Exhibit A: The highest ranking official accused of corruption, former FIFA Executive Committee Member and CONCACAF President Jack Warner held the top confederation post for 20 years in addition to many years as head of the Trinidad & Tobago national soccer association. Blazer held his Confederation post for 20 years (1990 to 2011), while the executive with longest tenure of all, former CONMEBOL President and VP Nicolas Leoz, was in power for a whopping 41 years (1972-2013).
Gulati and Garber must also demand that FIFA appoint an outsider of impeccable reputation and qualifications to lead the organization as FIFA President. It could be something akin to what Major League Baseball did back in 2007 when it brought in former U.S. Senator George Mitchell to address the issue of steroid use. In 1994, MLB named former Chairman of the United States Olympic Committee Peter Ueberroth as commissioner to address major collective bargaining issues, drug use and other problems that tainted the League’s image.
Gulati and Garber are capable and honorable men. It is precisely because of their high stature as professional sports executives operating with integrity for the good of the sport, that much is expected from them. They must step up and fill the vacuum of ethical leadership within FIFA.
Maybe they could get inspiration from the maxim: “The only thing necessary for the triumph [of evil] is for good men to do nothing.” [Edmund Burke].
If this does not happen, FIFA will surely cement its reputation as a “Squalid Cartel,”as Simon Jenkins of The Guardian calls it. “The idea that FIFA should be a ‘world governing body’ of any sort is as outrageous as Bernie Ecclestone being a regulator of motor racing or Don King of boxing. FIFA is an upmarket Sopranos. The key to its wealth, like that of the IOC, is its appropriation of commercial rights to events it sponsors, pocketing the money and denying it to host nations. As a result, host nations spend vast sums of money stoking up chauvinist hysteria around ‘winning the games’ by way of compensation.”
U.S. law enforcement opened up the road to reform. Now it is time for U.S. soccer leaders to raise their voices loud and clear and demand REAL REFORM or else begin to lay the foundations for the establishment of a new organization.
Carlos G Giron is a former MLS and CONCACAF communications executive and sports writer. Mr. Giron plans to run for the New York State Senate on a platform that strongly advocates transformative governance reform that includes the establishment of term limits for all members of the New York State Legislature. The 16th NYS Senate district in Queens, NY, includes sections of Elmhurst, Forest Hills, Fresh Meadows, Flushing, Jackson Heights, Oakland Gardens & Electchester/Pomonok, Rego Park, Whitestone and Woodside.