Many people in Europe and around the world have welcomed the recent bombshell U.S. criminal indictments that targeted top FIFA executives, British soccer writer Keir Radnedge told #HashtagVOA.
“For most people certainly… this has been a long time in coming,” Radnedge said on the VOA public affairs program. “There’s been a feeling of frustration that things haven’t worked quicker, and people haven’t been caught out sooner, but parts of the problem of course lay with FIFA’s own very, very lax governance systems.”
The corruption scandal that has resulted in 14 U.S. criminal indictments and cost FIFA chief Sepp Blatter his job.
History has shown that FIFA is incapable of fixing itself, David Larkin, a U.S. sports lawyer who has started a Facebook page and Twitter feed called @ChangeFIFA .
“We have data to p[rove that multiple times over,” he said. “And I think it’s important to structure this debate and ask, what is FIFA?
“I would argue it’s FIFA is basically 25 people… that basically operate in secret and that have no accountability,” Larkin said.
The indictments unveiled last month in New York painted a picture of endemic corruption and bribery among some officials at the Swiss-based organization that runs soccer tournaments around the world including the quadrennial World Cup, arguably the most watched sporting event in the world.
The charges rocked the soccer world and ultimately pushed Blatter to resign after initially defying calls for him to leave. Blatter has not been charged.
“This is a classic kind of mob style investigation,” said David Francis, a writer at the Washington-based magazine, Foreign Policy. “You get the small folks, the small fish to talk and you get to the bigger fish.”
Francis echoed Radnedge’s comments that many people are having a hard time figuring why the United States, whose love for soccer is small but growing, has taken the lead in tackling corruption at FIFA that has been an open secret for years.
“If this appears as if the US is the one trying to come in and upset the apple cart... it’s going to be really hard to get a lot of nations, a lot of African and South Asian nations on board,” Francis said. “We don’t want be the ugly Americans who are coming in and trying to mess up the party, and that‘s kind of how we look right now.”
Larkin said there’s “an extremely dishonest relationship between sport and society” about how wealthy, sporting organizations like FIFA operate and run highly public events like the World Cup.
He said Brazil spent $13 billion in public money to host last year’s tournament; now some of the stadiums that were built explicitly for the event are empty, or used for absurd purposes like a parking lot for buses.
“What we have is this really dishonest, awful bargain between society and the sport … and that has got to change,” Larkin said.
In announcing his resignation, Blatter said he would remain president until his successor is elected, in December at the earliest.
The election to replace him will be particularly fraught, the experts said, given differing perceptions of whether FIFA under Blatter has done more harm than good, particularly in developing countries.
“FIFA has a couple hundred people around world doing a great job in using football for development, for education, youth development and the work they do is tainted by these guys at the top who have this money making clique at the top,” Radnedge said.
“The great shame and the scandal is that these good things are emasculated by the bad things,” he said.
“The game has social impact not only just in terms of the sport, but also in terms of the soft power of government, this game is also a tool for governments,” Francis said. “At the highest level, sport has nothing to do with sport, it’s absolutely about geopolitics.”
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