Action Replay: Money Corrupts the Beautiful Game

On the 27 May seven current FIFA officials were arrested by the Swiss police at the luxury Hotel Baur au Lac in Zurich. They were there to attend the 65th FIFA Congress, scheduled to include the election of the President of FIFA. These executives are expected to be extradited to the United States on suspicion of receiving US$150 million in bribes.

Part of the investigation, initiated by the FBI, concerns collusion between officials of the continental football bodies for South America (CONMEBOL) and for the Caribbean, Central and North America (CONCACAF) and sports marketing executives seeking to become holders of media and marketing rights for international competitions including FIFA World Cup qualifying tournaments.

The CONCACAF President, Jeffrey Webb, who is also President of the Cayman Islands Football Association, and two sitting FIFA Executive members, Eduardo Li of the Costa Rican Football Federation, and Eugenio Figueredo, formerly of the Uruguayan FA, are amongst those arrested in connection with the investigation.

These arrests concerned alleged bribery, fraud and money laundering in connection with the awarding of media, marketing and hosting rights for FIFA games. An unnamed sports equipment company – subsequently identified as Nike – is alleged to have paid around $40 million in bribes to become the sole provider of footwear and equipment to the Brazil national team.

In the wake of this corruption case it was also reported that in 2008, the General Secretary of FIFA, Jerome Valcke, allegedly transferred $10 million given to FIFA by the South African FA to accounts controlled by Jack Warner, then head of CONCACAF. The payment is a key piece of the US prosecutors’ indictment that accuses Warner of taking a bribe in exchange for helping South Africa secure rights to host the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The payment from the South African FA had been intended to support football development in the Caribbean. Warner, however, is accused of using $1.6 million of the South African payment to pay off personal loans and credit card debts.

With the amount of money to be made from televising, marketing and hosting in relation to FIFA games it is not surprising that corruption should thrive. In fact, given capitalism, it would be surprising if it hadn’t. Football might be better called the Profitable Game than the Beautiful Game.


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