Logo for the DFR Audible post categoryI’ve been following the whole FIFA thing with mild interest, largely because it has been such a big story that it has been nearly unavoidable. I know precious little about soccer/football, and desire to know even less about it, but…I’m having some trouble with this story. Namely, I can’t really tell what crimes have been committed.

I don’t doubt that there have been offenses; I can see little reason why the U.S. Justice Department and Swiss officials would be investigating and making arrests with quite this much vigor unless indictable actions had been taken. But all I’ve really seen reported is that certain FIFA higher-ups have been accused of taking bribes to deliver future World Cup tournaments to Russia and Qatar. There’s been a lot of talk about hefty transfers of cash–$10 million to one guy, according to one report–and officials getting rich off the process…but I’m not sure I understand how these things amount to major crimes.

FIFA is the organizing body for the sport of international football. This may spring from my ignorance of the sport, but I was not aware that FIFA has any sort of standing as a governmental body–meaning, they’re not answerable to any nation’s government for their internal actions, assuming they’re not defrauding anyone and that their own by-laws allow whatever actions are taking place.

When we hear reports of corruption, and especially bribery, the gist of the matter is that elected or duly appointed officials have taken monetary rewards for doing something that is in conflict with what they have been elected or appointed to do. If a Senator is being paid to vote for a bill that would heap billions of dollars upon a corporation through contracts awarded or regulations eliminated–especially if that bill’s enactment goes contrary to the common weal of the Senator’s other constituents–then that is clearly corruption and bribery, and the guilty parties should be punished.

But is that what happened with FIFA? Association officials were paid millions to deliver tournaments to interested parties; sure, that’s perfectly believable. But…if the city of Phoenix paid Roger Goodell a wad of cash in exchange for awarding another Super Bowl to University of Phoenix Stadium four years from now…is that corruption or bribery? If the NFL has no internal bylaws against the commissioner accepting such payments, isn’t that just business? How many corporate CEO’s get large payments–either directly or indirectly, through compensation paid to the company–for negotiating a business deal with a particularly city, state, county, country, whatever entity you care to name? This is the way it works in business, and FIFA–like virtually every other sporting body in the world–is basically a business, albeit one that surrounds itself in the trappings of some noble pursuit in the name of Sport.

Again, I don’t doubt that some of these fools committed crimes. But in watching and reading the reports on this stuff, I’m not seeing it adequately explained HOW those crimes were committed, nor what laws were broken. Perhaps what we’re really seeing here is, again, just how shoddy and unprofessional is what passes for sports journalism in this country (and probably this world). Even the report I read from the New York Times–an outlet you can generally assume will go into the minutae of any story–failed to make clear where FIFA’s process crossed the line from venality into criminality.

If you’re going to make a big deal about a story, so much so that you take up valuable airtime delivering that story to an audience that includes a large segment of relatively disinterested parties, the least you could do is get all the factual ducks in a row and actually explain the damn thing. Otherwise, why should we care at all?


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