Even the most head-in-the-sand football fans know that the sport they love is corrupt to some extent.
It’s hard to make such an allegation against the Premier League or the FA in England, but we all know that there are countries in this world when high-ranking officials are only too happy to make some illegitimate money on the side.
But perhaps the net is closing. It has been revealed that FIFA, occasionally dragged into corruption scandals of their own, will receive more than $200 million – that’s £146 million all told – in funds that have been forfeited as part of a global probe into football fraud.
The investigation was carried out by the most unlikely of sources – the United States Department of Justice. The DOJ has done a pretty handy job of rounding up offenders ever since the probe was launched, with that huge stash of cash retrieved and more than 50 offenders charged with criminal offences.
The Department’s representative, Jacquelyn Kasulis, said:
“Today’s announcement confirms that money stolen by corrupt soccer officials and sports marketing executives through fraud and greed will be returned to where it belongs and used to benefit the sport.
“From the start, this investigation and prosecution have been focused on bringing wrongdoers to justice and restoring ill-gotten gains to those who work for the benefit of the beautiful game.”
Some $32 million of the funds have been made available for immediate distribution, and that will be shared between FIFA and CONMEBOL and CONCACAF – the overlords of football in North/Central America and South America respectively.
A Timeline of Scandal
It’s been six years in the making, and finally those responsible for some of the deepest corruption in football are paying the price.
Reynaldo Vasquez, once the president of El Salvador’s football federation, is the latest to be hauled in for questioning – he has since pleaded guilty to racketeering and other conspiracy charges, which are linked to the payment of bribes he allegedly received from various different parties.
And he might not be the last either, with Michael Driscoll – the assistant director-in-charge at the FBI – confirming that ‘our work isn’t done’ and promising ‘….to those who love the game…we won’t give up until everyone sees justice for what they’ve done.’
“Kickbacks and bribes have a way of spreading like a disease through corrupt groups; pure and simple greed keeps the graft going,” Driscoll said. “Not one official in this investigation seemed to care about the damage being done to a sport that millions around the world revere.
“The only silver lining is the money will now help underprivileged people who need it, not the wealthy executives who just wanted it to get richer.”
Here’s how the sorry tale of football corruption has played out on the global stage for the past six years….
2015 – The Door is Opened
It became apparent just how deep the corruption ran in and around FIFA in 2015, when the Jack Warner scenario played out rather publicly.
He was the former FIFA vice president that was charged with accepting a $10 million bribe to vote in favour of South Africa hosting the 2010 World Cup.
As if that wasn’t enough, Warner was also found to be involved in other incidences of corruption dating back to 1994, with shady TV deals and other activities outlined in a 164-page dossier on the man from Trinidad & Tobago.
It was confirmed that Warner has banked portions of that $10 million bribe into his personal bank account, and had played his part in a criminal syndicate that robbed football of its integrity and secured him and his cronies $150 million in fraudulent cash.
Unsurprisingly, Warner has now been banned from all involvement in football, and even less surprisingly he has since attempted to start a political career.
2016 – Stuck in the Webb
With Jack Warner under investigation, attention turned to Jeffrey Webb.
He was the former president of CONCACAF who would later admit to seven counts of bribery – that is, receiving seven cash payments to help steer commercial agreements covering World Cup qualifying in the direction of his chums.
In the end, another evidence came to light to bring a case against the Cayman Islander, and in the end he pleaded guilty to several charges of racketeering, money laundering and wire fraud.
But these corrupt high rankers have a Teflon-like quality, and at the time of writing Webb is still awaiting his sentence more than five years after his initial arrest.
2018 – The Cult of Charles Blazer
Living a happy life thinking they were getting away with the sweetest of crimes, even FIFA executives were living the life of riley in 2016 and beyond.
But then that knock on the door came that they must have been dreading. FBI agents swooped on the homes of seven different FIFA executives, including three high-profile figures from South American football.
In 2018, Jose Maria Marin – former presient of Brazilian football – was sentenced to four years in jail after admitting corruption, while Juan Angel Napout (former president of CONMEBOL) and Manuel Burga (president of the Peruvian FA) were also punished.
Their crime? Accepting bribes related to the sale of the TV rights for the Copa America tournament.
Linking the trio was a sole powerbroker. Charles Blazer went from one of the most corrupt figures on football’s periphery to FIFA whistleblower, and he would plead guilty to a host of charges – ten in all, including fraud, accepting bribes and racketeering – in return for a lesser punishment.
When the numbers were added up, it was suggested that Blazer and Warner together cost CONMEBOL some $80 million in monies ‘stolen’.
2019 – World Cup Corruption
The decision to hand Qatar the right to host the World Cup in 2022 has been one of the most controversial decisions that FIFA have made in recent times.
You won’t be shocked to learn that there are some murky rumours flying around about that too. It has been alleged in a book that Al-Jazeera made a secret pact to pay FIFA officials $100 million if they voted for Qatar – Jerome Valcke, later banned from football for separate corruption offences, is said to have been party to that agreement.
To make matters worse, it was later alleged that Al-Jazeera promised FIFA an addition $400 million if they allowed them to be the competition’s official broadcaster, while the government of Qatar is also said to have offered chiefs a $100 million sweetener if they voted for the Qatari bid.