WASHINGTON - The world's most powerful and lucrative sporting body was hit with shocking news on Wednesday. U.S. authorities unveiled charges against current and former officials of the International Federation of Association Football, or FIFA, as part of a sweeping probe into the organization. Two sports analysts spoke to VOA about the implications of the charges and what this means for FIFA going forward.
FIFA, the governing body of international football (soccer), has been accused of corruption for decades, but nothing like the allegations that surfaced Wednesday.
The U.S. Justice Department indicted 14 current and former top FIFA officials on broad corruption charges, including racketeering, money laundering and wire fraud. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said FIFA officials engaged in criminal actions and pocketed millions of dollars in bribes over more than two decades.
Separately, Swiss authorities announced a probe into allegations connected to the awarding of the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 World Cup to Qatar.
Mark Bisson, editor of the publication World Football Insider, said he was surprised that Wednesday's announcements came two days before FIFA's presidential election Friday.
"That was my first reaction. The two probes, one by the Justice Department, one by Swiss authorities, coincide with the FIFA presidential election on Friday. So the surprise was really in the timing," said Bisson.
Authorities arrested seven FIFA officials at a luxury hotel in Zurich, Switzerland, pending extradition to the United States.
Bisson said most of those arrested were linked with corruption for some time, including Jack Warner, former president of CONCACAF, the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football.
"We've known for some time that the former CONCACAF secretary general has been working with the FBI undercover, so today this bombshell is partly as a result of his work with the FBI. He's of course been implicated and engulfed in this corruption scandal, taking bribes and kickbacks over many years," said Bisson.
Friday's FIFA election will proceed as scheduled. FIFA President Sepp Blatter, who was not among those arrested, is seeking a fifth term as head of the organization.
Ives Galarcep, who writes for the website goal.com, believes Blatter knew what was going on.
"The interesting thing is that he's already in kind of spin control mode, and it seems like he's trying to insulate himself from what's gone on. But, either way, you have to look at him as being at fault here, because either he's totally involved, and he's pulling the strings on all of it, or he's the most incompetent leader in the history of corporations and business in the history of the world," said Galarcep.
In 2012, FIFA took an unprecedented move, awarding future World Cups to two countries in the same session: Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022.
Galarcep said FIFA opened itself up to criticism for making that move and by awarding a World Cup to a country, Qatar, with no football history and scorching temperatures in the summer, when the tournament is usually played.
"My impression is that these World Cups, the 2018 World Cup and the 2022 World Cup, was like kind of a big heist for them. And I think maybe they bit off more than they could chew because I think that's what really rang alarm bells around the world once they did that," he said.
FIFA has said there will be no re-vote for those World Cup sites.