FIFA, the world organizing body for football, and famously the organizer of the World Cup, is based in Zurich, Switzerland. But when authorities quietly escorted 7 FIFA executives out of a posh hotel in Zurich where a FIFA executive meeting was being held in May, 2015, it was due to the work of the FBI in the United States. I thought, “Wow”, that’s influence. Why is the US driving this and not another country, perhaps one more steeped in football lore where the loss of purity in sport would rankle more deeply.
I’m still not clear on this, but according to this thorough and fascinating piece from ESPN, the roots of the investigation that led to arrests at FIFA began in an FBI Bureau in Brooklyn, New York. When FIFA announced in December, 2010 that not only did Russia win the right to host the 2018 World Cup, but that Qatar won that honor as well for 2022, suspicions ran particularly high that something fishy was up.
As the article explains, “even the laziest ExCo members lived like kings. They each received $200,000 annual stipends, along with liberal per diems every time they went to Zurich. And they controlled the votes that decided where the most watched event in sports, the World Cup, would be played. This selection process seemed engineered for bribery, the FBI agents thought.”
The FBI first focused their attention on a member of the FIFA ExCo who happened to be based in New York, Chuck Blazer. He’s a large man, whom Russian President Vladimir Putin joked looked like Karl Marx, and was so caught up in cloak-and-dagger, stab-you-in-the-back FIFA politics, and so sick from the ravages of diabetes and cancer, that he turned. Blazer became the FBI’s inside man, recording conversations with other FIFA leaders for over a year, providing a “wealth of information” on the inner workings of a scandalous organization.
Another primer for the FIFA scandal is this piece from 60 Minutes, which features the lead FBI investigator John Burretta, as well as the long-standing thorn in the side of FIFA and the IOC, BBC journalist Andrew Jennings. Jennings’ talk on corruption in FIFA had fallen on deaf ears for years before he finally found redemption in these arrests.
Of all the things I learned, here’s the bit that got me. Not only did Blazer live in the luxurious Trump Tower (rent $18,000 a month), he had a smaller apartment next door, “reportedly for his cats”.