Three quick thoughts on corruption scandal in FIFA

1. The details of the corruption in the indictment are astounding. Perhaps the most alarming scheme described in the indictment is vote buying in the lead up to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. A member of the Moroccan bid committee offered Jack Warner $1 million for his vote. However, Warner decided to accept an alternative offer: officials from FIFA, the government of South Africa, and South Africa’s bid committee offered a payment of $10 million to the Caribbean Football Union (of which Warner was the head) to “support the African diaspora.” The payment was in exchange for the votes of Warner, Chuck Blazer, and one other unnamed co-conspirator. Warner accepted the offer and told Blazer he would share $1 million of the bribe with him. It turned out to be difficult to make the payment directly from South African government funds, so FIFA diverted funds that would have gone to South Africa instead to the Caribbean Football Union. Three wire transfers totaling $10 million were sent in January and March of 2008 from a FIFA account in Switzerland to accounts in New York for the Caribbean Football Union and CONCACAF, which were controlled by Warner. Warner subsequently laundered the money into his own personal accounts through intermediaries and paid $750,000 of the promised $1 million to Blazer in three installments.

2. Sepp Blatter is likely to win reelection tomorrow. While the indictment is almost certainly the greatest threat to his power in recent years, it seems likely that Blatter will win reelection this Friday. Blatter met with representatives from the regional confederations today to firm up his support for the election tomorrow. Delegates from associations in Africa, Asia, and Oceania have expressed opposition to postponing the election and have reaffirmed their support for Blatter. It’s not clear where officials from the Americas and Caribbean stand (the top official from CONCACAF is currently in a Swiss jail awaiting extradition to the U.S.). While UEFA is the only confederation that supports postponement, they have pledged their support for Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein and will participate in the FIFA Congress. It is not entirely implausible that Prince Ali could win election tomorrow, but based on pledged support from the various regional confederations, it seems unlikely. This is all not to say that the federal investigation is a non-threat to Blatter’s reign, but in the short term, he looks increasingly likely to remain in power.

3. Both sponsors and broadcasters are complicit in FIFA’s wrongdoings. After Visa issued a statement expressing “disappointment and concern,” many were quick to applaud a sponsor for finally putting pressure on FIFA. It is true that pressure from sponsors may ultimately be crucial for reforms, but corruption inside of FIFA should come as a surprise to no one. Visa chose to ignore the corruption until it became untenable to do so. Also, what does it say that the sponsors exert more pressure in the case of bribery and problematic governance than a massive death toll and human rights violations? Journalists often bemoan sponsors’ refusal to pressure and protest FIFA, yet they say very little about the complicity of broadcasters. Television rights are huge revenue streams for FIFA, and the contracts for these rights were at the heart of almost all of the corruption detailed in the indictment. Broadcasters are equally complicit in FIFA’s wrongdoings.