FIFA is patently corrupt, but what’s this FBI sting really been about…?

A precursory note to the disinterested:

I did not originally intend to post an article (certainly nothing so extended) about the ongoing investigations into football’s world governing body, FIFA. However, once I began to scratch just a little beneath the surface of this developing scandal, I found that it immediately led into areas completely unanticipated. Behind the cartoon kleptocracy running the show at FIFA HQ up popped more familiar faces: the gone, but not so easily forgotten Nicolas Sarkozy, the ubiquitous Benjamin Netanyahu, and — never far from any scandal — the unwanted opinion of John McCain. Added to which, there are political entanglements that ought to have a bearing on the current US Presidential election campaign – what is the role the Clintons have played?

*

World Cup fever

When, in 2010, FIFA chief Sepp Blatter announced that Russia would host the 2018 World Cup a few eyebrows were raised… Moments later, however, as Blatter slipped his hand into a second envelope before revealing to the assembly of hopeful delegates that Qatar were to host in 2022, you could barely hear the feigned applause above the sound of jaws collectively dropping around the world.

Russia is a country very much riddled with corruption as we know (after the fall of communism, the so-called “liberalisation of markets” left the way wide open for the rise of the gangster oligarchs), but Russia is also a proud footballing nation. Supporters of the game recognised that Russia had at least earned its right to host football’s greatest tournament. The Qatar decision, on the other hand, instantly turned FIFA into a laughing stock.

Qatar has zero footballing tradition, effectively zero facilities, and due to its arid climate, close to zero blades of grass. What it had instead, and in prodigious abundance, was oil and money, and the political clout that goes with both. In other words, graft had again won the day – and just look who is smiling broadly beside the delegation of Qatari sheikhs as they jump for joy – bottom left of the screen [16 mins in], the sleek, silvery head of former President and (very likely, heaven forfend) soon-to-be (first) First Husband of the United States, Bill Clinton (a lot more on this Clinton connection later):

Whatever lingering hopes we’d had that FIFA may recover a little of its horribly sullied reputation were gone forever (though most supporters knew the score long before 2010), and all that was left was to marvel at the temerity of football’s world governing body, so casually throwing off any last pretence to probity and respectability.

With the rigged voting in 2010, it may be argued that the writing was on the wall for both FIFA and its seamy president Sepp Blatter, but with friends like Qatar around to watch your back, neither FIFA nor Blatter were about to be quite so unceremoniously deposed. Certainly the stage had been set, but the future remained secure for the heads of FIFA, or so it seemed until last week…

*

It wasn’t exactly extraordinary rendition. But when Swiss police arrested seven officials of FIFA, the international football federation, for extradition to the United States, there were some echoes of the secret terrorism arrests. Soccer is a global game, and it matters more to almost everyone than to Americans. So why is the US acting as the international sheriff and grabbing up non-US citizens to try them domestically for corrupting the sport worldwide? And, more to the point, why is this legal?

So writes Noah Feldman, who is a professor of constitutional and international law at Harvard.

Feldman’s questions are germane. But before we come to addressing them, it is worthwhile considering more closely the person in charge of so aggressively pursuing the case, Obama’s newly appointed US Attorney General, Loretta Lynch. Lynch has a point to prove, as an article published by the Guardian in February explains:

Opposition to Barack Obama’s nominee for US attorney general over her handling of the HSBC scandal is growing in Congress after she admitted deciding not to prosecute the bank for money laundering offences without hearing from key regulators or a separate investigation into tax secrecy. […]

“These decisions by the [Department of Justice] and Ms Lynch’s office raise troubling questions about whether pertinent information of public concern regarding HSBC was ‘swept under the rug’, if justice was served, and why HSBC was given special treatment that allowed it to walk away from such serious offences unscathed,” [Senator David] Vitter writes in a letter to current attorney general Eric Holder. “This case is increasingly relevant and pressing now that Ms Lynch has been nominated as the next attorney general.”

Lynch has confirmed she was not aware of the damning tax allegations against the bank when negotiating a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) over it facilitating money laundering by Mexican drug cartels and helping clients evade US sanctions.

This was despite a separate investigation into documents from whistleblower Hervé Falciani showing HSBC’s role in colluding with Swiss bank clients to hide their assets from tax authorities, which were passed to the US government by French authorities.

“To my knowledge, my office did not have access to the Falciani documents prior to execution of the DPA [Deferred Prosecution Agreement],” said Lynch in responses published on Thursday. “I am not aware of whether or how the information was conveyed to the department, nor do I have information about why my office did not have access to it.”

The admission has angered campaigners who say the crucial Facliona [sic] documents were “lost in the haystack of information” at the DoJ but their public existence could have been easily verified.

“She could have looked it up on Wikipedia,” said Bart Naylor, an expert at Public Citizen1

Click here to read the full article.

Thanks to Lynch’s oversight (in both senses of the word), HSBC escaped prosecution despite proven charges of laundering money for drug cartels and for terrorists – setting an extremely dangerous “too big to jail” precedent. After this remarkably softly, softly approach to Wall Street, however, Lynch is now taking an altogether more muscular stance in the case of FIFA.

An approach which potentially sets a differently dangerous precedent as she risks accusations of judicial overreach, especially given the comparatively speaking, minor felonies – bribery and kickbacks of around £100 million over 24 years is the charge against the accused FIFA officials (close to the price Real Madrid paid Spurs for Gareth Bale), and not the multiple billions of the never-ending banking “scandals”, or, to offer a very different example, the child trafficking allegations for which both DynCorp and Halliburton have been implicated (but no prosecutions brought). Furthermore, these alleged offences were committed by officials not at the head of a multinational corporation, but of a sports body that the average American cares very little about. So, why is the FBI so bothered? Why now? And on what grounds did the FBI make last week’s arrests outside America? Back to Noah Feldman:

It turns out the legal basis for the FIFA prosecutions isn’t all that simple or straightforward – and therein lies a tale of politics and sport. The prosecutions are being brought under RICO, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organisations Act of 1970, which was designed to prosecute crime syndicates that had taken over otherwise lawful organisations. […]

Generally, as the US Supreme Court has recently emphasised, laws passed by Congress don’t apply outside the US unless Congress affirmatively says so. RICO on its face says nothing about applying beyond US borders. So you’d think it can’t reach conduct that occurred abroad, and much of the alleged FIFA criminal conduct appears to have done so.

But in 2014 the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that RICO could apply extraterritorially – if, and only if, the separate criminal acts required by the law, known as “predicate acts”, violated statutes that themselves apply outside US borders. […]

But what’s most remarkable, and even incendiary, about the indictment comes in the fine print. RICO requires the existence of a criminal enterprise. As part of its case, the US Department of Justice is alleging that FIFA, the organiser of the World Cup, became a criminal enterprise as a result of its use of systematic corruption. In effect, the US government is saying that FIFA became the Mafia. 2 [Emphasis added]

*

Sepp Blatter has not (yet) been indicted, but for most of last week he was decidedly the man most in the (media) frame. In spite of this, delegates at the 65th Congress re-elected him as FIFA president and then for days afterwards, Blatter brazenly refused to step down. During this period of prolonged ignominy, it had been Michel Platini, chief of European football’s ruling body, UEFA, who was most vociferous in calling for Blatter’s resignation:

[Blatter’s] speech came just hours after Frenchman Platini said the latest crisis had left him “absolutely sickened”, adding: “People have had enough, they don’t want this president any more.” 3

That was on Thursday 28th, the day before FIFA’s election for president, and after Platini had personally requested that Blatter step down. The same day, Platini also called for delegates to join him in voting for Jordan’s Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein, saying:

“Sepp, I like to speak to you man to man, face to face. Listen we started together, now I am asking you to leave FIFA because we give a terrible image and this can’t go on.” 4

Now, it is here worth briefly reflecting upon Michel Platini’s reputation as a player. For Platini wasn’t just any old player, but acclaimed by many as the greatest player of his generation. Creative, imaginative, tremendously skilful, Platini had been lauded not only for his prodigious talents, but also for his clean approach to the game. That said, after becoming head of FIFA’s European affiliate UEFA, Platini, like Blatter (who was always a bureaucrat), moved into politics. The politics of sport is politics nevertheless.

Since Platini took the helm at UEFA, he too became deeply embroiled in scandals seemingly of his own making – scandals I will return to in a moment. Yet at the present time, the media have collectively latched onto Platini and adopted him as football’s knight in shining armour. So whatever Platini is reported to have said is often presented as though Platini himself has no political ambitions. But this is nonsensical. And in actual fact, Platini’s own decisions as a footballing chief also played a significant part in FIFA’s downfall too – if, that is, we accept that FIFA’s real troubles began with the absurd 2010 vote and Qatar’s moment in the sun.

*

Qatar

In a 20-page investigation headlined “Qatargate”, the respected magazine France Football said that “acts of collusion and corruption” shaped the much-criticised FIFA decision to award the 2022 competition to the tiny, oil-rich Gulf state.

Among the alleged “acts of collusion”, the magazine listed a secret meeting called by President Sarkozy at the Elysée Palace on 23 November 2010. Ten days later – to worldwide astonishment – Qatar was chosen by a FIFA executive committee meeting in Zurich to host the World Cup in June-July 2022, despite summer temperatures in the Gulf of up to 50C.

This is taken from an article published by The Independent in January 2013. It continues:

Mr Sarkozy’s lunch guests included the crown prince of Qatar, Tamin bin Haman al-Thani, Michel Platini, president of the European Football Association (EUFA), and a representative of the investment fund which owned the then struggling French football club, Paris Saint-Germain (PSG).

France Football said that Mr Platini – a star of the France team of the 1980s – came under pressure at the lunch to switch his vote from the United States to Qatar.

The article ends with a quote from Nicolas Sarkozy:

One of the few international figures to have consistently supported the choice of Qatar is Mr Sarkozy. Just after the FIFA vote in 2010, he said: “Sport does not belong to a few countries. It belongs to the world… I don’t understand those who say that events should always be held in the same countries and the same continents.” 5

Click here to read the full article.

Eighteen months later, as the scandal rumbled on, we learned that Platini not only voted for Qatar in the ballot, but that he had been involved in another private meeting linked to the Qatar bid:

The Telegraph has unearthed evidence that Mr Platini, a former leading French international and the president of Uefa, European football’s governing body, had a private discussion with Mohamed Bin Hammam, the controversial Qatari [a former Fifa executive committee member and ex-president of the Asian Football Confederation] who paid millions of pounds to football officials around the world. […]

It is understood that the meeting took place shortly before Fifa awarded the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, and that Mr Bin Hammam personally lobbied Mr Platini to support the Emirate’s bid.

Fifa executive committee members vote in secret, but Mr Platini has disclosed that he voted for Qatar in the ballot, which was held in 2010. 6

Platini, whose son Laurent happened to be the chief executive of Qatar owned sports company Burrda, quickly denied the allegations, writing in response to The Telegraph article:

“I find it astonishing that conversations with a fellow member of the FIFA Executive Committee could suddenly be transformed into a matter of state.

I have obviously met with Mr. Mohamed Bin Hammam on many occasions in 2010 as we were both members of the same FIFA Executive Committee since 2002.

During those conversations with Mr. Bin Hammam, the topic of the discussions was my potential candidature for the FIFA Presidency. Mr. Bin Hammam was indeed trying to convince me to become a candidate for the 2011 FIFA Presidential elections.

Additionally, I wish to reiterate that I am the only member of the FIFA Executive Committee who publicly stated for which bid I have voted – proof of my full transparency – and that no one ever dictates terms or conditions to me.

Unfortunately, I am no longer surprised by the circulation of unfounded rumours which aim at tarnishing my image, especially in such an important time for the future of football.”

*

Ukraine and Russia

[Nonetheless,] the bid was still considered the outsider of the three.

Poland is still recovering from a match-fixing scandal and its government has been warned by Uefa and Fifa about political interference in the country’s football governing body.

Meanwhile, Ukraine has been hit by a political crisis, with the president trying to dissolve parliament. 7

This was how the BBC reported on the surprise victory by the joint Poland-Ukraine bid to host the Euro 2012 tournament. At the time, Italy had been favourites to win, even though their own bid was similarly overshadowed with issues relating to crowd violence as well as to a match-fixing scandal. The Italian authorities have always accepted the result, however, one person, and not an Italian but a Cypriot, would later publicly claim that he held evidence of backroom deals. UEFA’s response was swift:

European football’s governing body, Uefa, says it is taking legal action in response to allegations of corruption in the bidding race for Euro 2012.

Spyros Marangos, a former treasurer of the Cyprus Football Association [CFA], claimed this week that money had changed hands before the championship was handed to Poland and Ukraine.

He was told to provide evidence within two days to back up his claims.

But, according to Uefa, Mr Marangos had complained that was too short notice.

His lawyers told the BBC on Monday that Mr Marangos had tried for the past two years to draw the football body’s attention to the allegations for which he had witnesses. 8

Spyros Marangos, who had left the CFA in 2007, “made the allegations in German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung before telling Italian daily La Gazzetta dello Sport that he had proof to back up his claims.” In response, UEFA filed for damages in the Swiss courts and lodged a complaint with the Cypriot Attorney General. They also released an official statement:

‘UEFA has been obliged to take legal action firstly in order to establish whether any of the claims made by Mr Marangos have any substance to them, and therefore to make available any tangible elements in order to substantiate these claims. And secondly, to protect the integrity and the good name of UEFA and European football in general, which have been seriously damaged by these allegations.’ 9

Not that scandal surrounding the Euro 2012 tournament ended with Spyros Marangos’ unsubstantiated allegations. There have since been claims that once construction for the tournament started, as much as £2.5 billion (compare this with the £100 million in alleged bribes currently being investigated by the FBI) went missing in Ukraine alone:

Uefa, the governing body of football in Europe, is under pressure to investigate claims of massive corruption during Ukraine’s preparations for Euro 2012, amid allegations that as much as $4bn (£2.5bn) in state funds allocated for the tournament was stolen by officials.

Rebecca Harms, the leader of the Green faction in the European parliament, said Uefa had to investigate why Ukraine cancelled competitive tenders for all Euro 2012 projects in 2010. Instead, contracts for building stadiums, roads and other infrastructure projects were awarded to a handful of shadowy companies, including one based offshore in Belize. […]

Harms, a German MEP who visited Ukraine’s second city, Kharkiv, last week, told the Guardian: “I will confront Uefa with these questions. I will also raise them in parliament. In whose private pocket did the money go? Uefa [under Platini’s watch – my note] must take responsibility.” 10

This comes from a Guardian article published in 2012, a time when former Prime Minister “the gas princess” Yulia Tymoshenko had been jailed for her own part in a corruption scandal soon after her fierce opponent Viktor Yanukovych was re-elected into office. With pro-western Tymoshenko behind bars and more Russophilic Yanukovych back in power, the corporate media was much keener to switch its spotlight on to Ukrainian criminality.

But for reasons of political expedience, Ukraine and its oligarchs now get a more or less free pass. The media turns a blind eye, not merely to its corruption scandals, but to Kiev’s deliberate bombing campaign against civilians (a million people forced to flee to Russia), to its complicity in a massacre, and to the overt rise of fascism both within government spheres and military brigades. When searching out stories of corruption, attention has instead shifted solely to the misdemeanours of Russian oligarchs and to crimes committed (“allegedly” is a word reserved for western misdemeanours and indiscretions) by the Kremlin. Which brings us back to FIFA…

Given the sordid history of FIFA, the allegations will likely have a solid foundation. Four other people and two companies have already pleaded guilty to charges in the case. Allegations of bribery have long dogged FIFA. Vast fortunes are at stake when it comes to hosting prestigious sporting events, such as the World Cup and Olympics. Bribery has become endemic in the allocation of these events.

Mass sporting events, which are backed and sponsored by gigantic corporate interests, are fundamentally managed no differently than anything else organised by big business and the imperialist powers.

The decision by the Obama administration to pursue and file the charges, however, is both hypocritical and politically motivated. Indeed, the sums cited in the criminality within FIFA are dwarfed by the corrupt practices associated with the US and global financial system.

Following the arrests, FBI Director James Comey said, “If you corrupt our shores with your corrupt enterprise, whether that is through meetings or using our world-class financial system, you will be held accountable for that corruption. Nobody is above or beyond the law.”

Loretta Lynch, the Obama administration’s attorney general, spoke of a culture of “rampant, systemic and deep-rooted” corruption. In the attempt to justify action against individuals residing in and largely operating outside of the US, Lynch said, “In many instances, the defendants and their co-conspirators planned aspects of this long-running scheme during meetings held here in the United States.”

Comey and Lynch speak as representatives of a US elite that is guilty of criminality on a much larger scale. Their “world-class financial system” is one that allowed a parasitic elite to indulge in financial skulduggery that collapsed the world’s banking system in 2008, leading to a global recession. And they rewarded these same people for their criminal behaviour with trillions of dollars of public money.

“Rampant, systemic and deep-rooted” corruption is an apt description of the daily operations of US banks, yet no executive of a major bank has been arrested or prosecuted.

The well-documented financial corruption within football’s ruling body is being utilised by the US primarily as a propaganda weapon against Russia.

That comes from an article published on the World Socialist Web Site. I reprint such an extended passage simply because it so cogently summed up my own thoughts upon hearing that FIFA had been busted by the FBI. Can anyone honestly fail to make the same connection? Especially since, as the same article goes on to point out:

Moscow’s hosting of the 2018 World Cup has been turned by figures with the US ruling elite and their allies internationally into a question of paramount importance.

Senator Robert Menendez, who in April was indicted on federal corruption charges, said he was “especially pleased that Swiss and US authorities are investigating FIFA’s granting of the World Cup to Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022”, as he had “long been concerned about FIFA’s selection of Russia.”

He was supported by Senator John McCain, who jointly authored a letter to FIFA declaring, “In light of President Blatter’s continued support for Russia hosting the 2018 FIFA World Cup—despite Russia’s ongoing violations of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and other challenges to the post-WWII security architecture—we ask that you reconsider your support for President Blatter’s fifth term as FIFA President.

This follows a letter to FIFA last month from 13 US senators requesting that Blatter step in to take the World Cup away from Russia. 11 [Emphasis added]

As the new Cold War sets in, this action is rather blatantly about Russia – an Anglo-American desire to embarrass Putin – although there are more reasons besides why this meeting taking place in Zurich about the immediate future of “global soccer” might have been troubling some on Capitol Hill…

*

Israel

In 2007, FIFA suspended Kuwait from all international matches because of “governmental interference in the national game”. In 2013, Cameroon Football Federation (Fecafoot) was suspended, and then last year, the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) was also suspended “on account of government interference.” This year, both FIFA and UEFA were threatening to sanction Greece, who had previously been suspended briefly in 2006 when they were then-reigning European champions, before the threat was dropped.

This time around, however, it was the Israeli FA that were facing possible suspension, and not because of “governmental interference in the national game” (as is usually the case), but on the more aggravated grounds that Israel had violated rules relating to free movement of players and of racism. In fact, Israel was about to be called to account for its abuses against Palestinian footballers that have included harassment, assaults, arrests, deliberately targeted shootings 12 and actual killings 13. One of the most high profile cases involved Mahmoud Sarsak, who at 14 years old was the youngest-ever player in the Palestine League:

Its abuse of Palestinian footballer Mahmoud Sarsak undermined a promising career. In 2009, Israeli security thugs arrested him for trying to cross from Gaza to the West Bank to participate in a match – his legitimate right.

He was horrifically abused, lawlessly kept in administrative detention for three years uncharged. His lawyers were denied access to fabricated evidence against him.

He was guilty of the crime of football – freed in summer 2012 after a 92 day hunger strike. Israel ruthlessly targets other Palestinian footballers like Sarsak. 14

A more detailed list of Israel’s violations are available at the Stop the War Coalition website.

The Palestinian Football Association (which has been recognised by FIFA since 1998 and is led by president Jibril Rajoub) had been granted a vote on Israel’s suspension at last week’s FIFA Congress, and Palestine supporters were also gathered outside to lend vocal support to the call for Israel’s expulsion. Although delayed because of a bomb scare, the Palestinians  remained optimistic that the ballot would return a decision in their favour:

The Palestinian Football Association will push ahead Friday for a vote calling for the suspension of Israel from the world football organisation at Fifa’s scandal-riven congress in Zurich.

Despite last-ditch attempts at mediation by world football officials, the Palestinian delegation insisted it would push for a vote unless Israel expels five teams based in illegal Israeli settlements from its football league. […]

Both Palestinian and Israeli delegations in Zurich have been working around the clock since arriving in the midst of the biggest scandal to hit the world football organisation.

Twin Swiss and US investigations focussing on a far-reaching culture of kickbacks in Fifa have thrown the congress in Zurich into chaos, including both the re-election bid of Fifa president Sepp Blatter and other business on the agenda including the Palestinian bid to have Israel suspended.

Israel has sought the support of the European regional grouping UEFA of which it is a member to vote against the proposed suspension. [I will come back to this]

Its efforts to avoid a vote – which some see as damaging in itself as a vote for suspension – have seen it enlist Israel’s ministry of foreign affairs as well as the lobbying of key Fifa officials.

The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, weighed in on Thursday, telling reporters that if Israel is suspended “it would be a blatant politicisation of sport and the result will be Fifa’s collapse”15

[Emphasis added]

That was taken from a Guardian article published on the morning of Friday 29th, the day of the vote, but by the evening everything had changed:

The Palestinian Football Association has withdrawn its call to have Israel suspended from Fifa in a chaotic last minute climbdown at the congress of football’s governing body in Zurich. Following days of negotiations, and the mediation of Fifa president Sepp Blatter, the Palestinian moves at the scandal-ridden congress appeared comprehensively outmanoeuvred by feverish Israeli lobbying and the opposition of senior Fifa officials, including Blatter.

As details of an impending deal emerged, the Palestinian delegation came out of the last round of talks expecting the congress to vote on an amendment to refer the main sticking point, the status of five Israeli clubs based in illegal settlements on the West Bank, to the United Nations.

But the Palestinian move was overruled by Blatter, to the clear dismay of the Palestinian delegation, whose lawyer tried to appeal from the floor. Instead, the issue will be referred to a new Fifa committee. […]

Palestinian sources confirmed that Rajoub had been under huge pressure to withdraw the suspension motion from delegates. “It is true everyone was putting pressure on him to withdraw,” said one. Blatter has always made clear he opposed a vote on suspension.

Following the withdrawal of the request to suspend Israel over claims of its racist and discriminatory policies towards Palestinian football, 90% of delegates voted to set up a new monitoring inspections committee to oversee a mechanism to ensure movement of players and equipment.

The size of the vote in favour of the motion – 165-18 – is likely to be the only consolation for the Palestinian side, which has been pushing a long-term campaign over what it says are Israeli abuses of Palestinian football.

The outcome seemed certain to be a cause for celebration for Israel. […]

Commenting on the outcome, Netanyahu said: “Our international effort has proven itself and led to the failure of the Palestinian Authority attempt to oust us from Fifa.” 16

Click here to read more of this follow-up Guardian article

Afterwards, Israeli minister, Yisrael Katz, posted this on Facebook:

Rajoub failed in his mission of throwing Israel out of FIFA.  Now’s the time to imprison him in the Muqata [like Israel did to Arafat] and let him play Stanga [hackysack] with his pals 17

Newly re-elected president Sepp Blatter, who had stated his opposition to the suspension of Israel, tried to be conciliatory, but what he said was all the more risible for his attempt:

“This has been an issue for the past two FIFA Congresses and I’m so happy that we’re coming to a solution. I’m sure both sides will apply the basic principle of FIFA which is solidarity, it is up to Israel to help and share a little bit more with Palestine.”

But Blatter was not alone in defending the indefensible. Back in April, Platini too had given his backing to Israeli Football Association (IFA) officials. The IFA later releasing a statement saying:

“Platini stressed that Israel is an inseparable part of UEFA and is an equal member that is welcome in the UEFA family.”

Then, at a press conference on the eve of the FIFA congress, Platini reiterated that:

[The] football’s world governing body ‘wouldn’t accept’ the Palestinian FA’s bid to ban Israel from FIFA, should the motion be put to a vote tomorrow. 18

So punishment that was thought good for Cameroon, Nigeria, Greece and many others, including even oil-rich Kuwait (should anyone suppose this is simply about money), was withheld from Israel. All the turmoil going on at FIFA can hardly have helped the Palestinian cause.

*

Back to Qatar (and the Clintons)

Dozens of Nepalese migrant labourers have died in Qatar in recent weeks and thousands more are enduring appalling labour abuses, a Guardian investigation has found, raising serious questions about Qatar’s preparations to host the 2022 World Cup.

This summer, Nepalese workers died at a rate of almost one a day in Qatar, many of them young men who had sudden heart attacks. The investigation found evidence to suggest that thousands of Nepalese, who make up the single largest group of labourers in Qatar, face exploitation and abuses that amount to modern-day slavery, as defined by the International Labour Organisation, during a building binge paving the way for 2022.

According to documents obtained from the Nepalese embassy in Doha, at least 44 workers died between 4 June and 8 August. More than half died of heart attacks, heart failure or workplace accidents. 19

This is the opening to one of the earliest mainstream reports on the use of slave labour in constructing the World Cup infrastructure ready for Qatar 2022.

As this whole corruption fiasco has played out, and when not conducting the growing chorus of disapproval towards the disgraced but shameless Blatter, the media has also occasionally drawn a little more attention to the unseen costs of FIFA’s shock decision in 2010. For this is apparently what it takes to get our western media to fully investigate and to seriously challenge conditions within the despotic regimes of our Gulf State partners. And, on a similar note, we may now also return to consider the role of the Clintons in this whole debacle:

Bill Clinton looked anything but happy as he strode into the Savoy Baur en Ville hotel in Zurich in December 2010. The receptionists could tell he was irritated, but had no idea just how angry he was.

After closing the door to his suite, he reached for an ornament on a table and threw it at a wall mirror in a fit of rage, shattering the glass.

The former US president, who had spent two years travelling the world glad-handing members of football’s governing body, Fifa, could not believe America’s bid to host the 2022 World Cup had been beaten by, of all places, Qatar. 20

Hmmm, well he certainly doesn’t look like a man about to throw an ornament into a mirror in a fit of pique in that footage (embedded above), but then Bill is a renown diplomat, so presumably he was just putting a brave face on it. But hold up, what’s this…?

Former President Bill Clinton served as the honorary chairman of the U.S. committee that worked unsuccessfully to win the right to host the 2022 World Cup. The surprise winner that year was Qatar–and it turns out that the Qatari committee now planning the massive event has been a major donor to Clinton’s charitable foundation. […]

The foundation’s donor records, posted on its Web site, show that FIFA, or the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, has donated between $50,000 and $100,000 to the Clinton foundation. The Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee, which was formed in 2011 to build stadiums and other infrastructure after Qatar was named the 2022 host, has given between $250,000 and $500,000 to the foundation.

Naturally therefore, top of Loretta Lynch’s list will now be inquiries regarding these donations into the Clinton funds… Well, no:

U.S. officials Wednesday unsealed indictments against 14 top officials involved with soccer, accusing the group of bribery, money laundering and fraud.

While the [Clinton] foundation has no involvement with the investigations, it’s a reminder that the global philanthropy has accepted donations from many of the world’s richest and most powerful players. Its donor list runs to 200,000 names, and includes foreign governments, Wall Street and foreign financial institutions, energy conglomerates and others. The government of Qatar, for instance, which aggressively sought the World Cup, has given the foundation between $1 million and $5 million. 21

[Emphasis added]

Other “philanthropic” donations to the Clinton Foundation have come from Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Electric and another less well-known aerospace manufacturer Hawker Beechcraft, who were part owned by Goldman Sachs. Coincidentally, many of these state and corporate donors had trade deals approved by Hillary Clinton’s State Department:

The monarchy in Qatar had similarly been chastised by the State Department for a raft of human rights abuses. But that country donated to the Clinton Foundation while Hillary Clinton was running the State Department. During the three full budgetary years of her tenure, Qatar saw a 14-fold increase in State Department authorizations for direct commercial sales of military equipment and services, as compared to the same time period in Bush’s second term. The department also approved the Pentagon’s separate $750 million sale of multi-mission helicopters to Qatar. That deal would additionally employ as contractors three companies that have all supported the Clinton Foundation over the years: United Technologies, Lockheed Martin and General Electric. 22

To read more about how these Clinton Foundation donors received contracts from Hillary Clinton’s State Department click here.

So let me pose this: is the bigger story here the one about a few (so far numbering fourteen) corrupt FIFA officials, or is it one about the financial irregularities of a former US President and his warmongering Presidential candidate wife?

[There are a great many other “scandals” surrounding and involving the Clintons, but I prefer to hold back from writing more about the misadventures of Bill and Hillary until a later date.]

*

Beyond Blatter

Now that Blatter is gone, what about the future of world football itself? The consensus amongst supporters – in Europe at least – appears to be that FIFA as a whole ought to be reformed, or even abolished. But here (as always) I believe it is wise to be very careful what we wish for.

During my time as a football fan (a period that encompasses nearly my whole life) there have been enormous changes in the sport. In England, surely the most significant of these was the establishment of the Premier League.

Prior to the Premier League, the wealthiest clubs in England were already in the habit of pestering for a bigger share of the television revenues. Breakaway threats would come and go, but nothing very much altered. It happens, however, that there have always been two ruling bodies in English football – The Football League and the Football Association (FA) – and eventually all this talk of divorce was formalised by the oldest and grandest of two, the FA, who foisted a deal against The League’s broader interests and on behalf of the richest “big five” clubs. In consequence, the top division became effectively a league of its own, administered under the auspices not of The League, but the FA. Extra money from the new TV rights could then be divvied up amongst the clubs in the new Premier League. Thus greed won out over democracy, as was the fashion in the early 1990s (and as now).

There have been many consequences to the formation of the FA Premier League. Increased revenues have enabled its clubs to attract star players from across the world, and the standard of top level English football has certainly improved. But the new money mostly went into players’ wages, and as salaries and bonuses rapidly inflated, ticket prices also escalated, squeezing out many of the game’s long-standing supporters. As clubs’ loyalty to their supporters waned, so too did the players’ loyalty to their clubs. Loyalty in football has all but disappeared.

In short, the establishment of the Premier League has helped to accelerate the corporatisation of English football. Thirty years ago there were arguments about whether players’ shirts should be allowed to carry advertisements (the BBC allowed ads on Formula One cars but baulked at letting football go the same way), and debate over whether football matches could be played on Sundays (a day of rest, for those who remember). Who could have envisaged a future when TV executives (primarily at Sky) would demand football matches are played literally every day of the week and three times on Sundays! Meantime, the supporters, who often travel great distances to watch their teams, and who cling to the belief that the game belongs to them (I remain one of the millions of likewise deluded fools), have in truth become little more than an advertising backdrop. Colourful scenery for corporate giants to hang their logos on.

As this latest FIFA scandal unfolded, it was the corporate sponsors, we have repeatedly been informed, who pushed hardest for Blatter’s resignation, deeply concerned that their own brand may become tarnished with ties to FIFA’s corruption. Hurrah for enlightened self-interest; this is what we’re supposed to think. Forgetting how those very same offshore (for tax purposes) multinational entities, exploit their distant workers in third world sweatshops, twisting every health and safety and environmental regulation in unremitting efforts to maximise profit. We ought really to laugh out loud, if only it didn’t hurt so much.

Likewise, the news is that UEFA may soon be split from FIFA altogether. A move which the corporations would doubtless prefer – two tiers in world football, very much along the lines of the two-tiered English league. So is UEFA about to usurp FIFA just as the FA usurped the Football League in the early ’90s? I sincerely hope not.

One thing I have learned about FIFA during the last week or so that surprised me in a good way, is how its voting systems are actually more democratic than those for most other global institutions. Each affiliated football association, irrespective of its size or importance, gets just one vote. It is this equality amongst nations that has helped to preserve the World Cup as a genuinely international competition. The diversity surviving by virtue of one simple but surprising fact: that it is very much easier for teams from Oceania, Asia, Africa and even North America to qualify than for those from the footballing superpowers in Europe and South America. Such handicapping makes the World Cup what it is – and FIFA deserve credit for keeping the playing field unlevel.

FIFA’s “one association one vote” system is arguably the very epitome of what footballing democracy ought to be, and not as the media has repeatedly presented it, another measure of corruption within the organisation itself. Of course, FIFA’s system does make the buying-off of local officials in smaller and poorer nations worthwhile, whereas if the major nations were prioritised (as is usually the case), corruption of a different but more familiar form would likely proliferate instead. Meanwhile, the insinuation that only officials of the “lesser nations” are prone to corruption is one that smacks very much of racism.

In any case, once the pressure has built to overhaul the existing system, the great tendency will be to make changes to benefit the superpowers of the game. And with more control in the hands of those in Europe (assuming UEFA prevails), western domination of the world’s favourite sport will also mean football imperialism.

I would like to finish on a related issue presented again by Noah Feldman, professor of constitutional and international law at Harvard, as he concluded his piece for Bloomberg View:

How will the rest of the world react to the claim that soccer’s international governing body is a criminal enterprise under U.S. law? One possibility is that international observers will be grateful that someone finally stepped in to do something about endemic corruption within FIFA. It’s been a more or less open secret over the years that FIFA was corrupt in the ordinary, nontechnical meaning of the word. Perhaps – just perhaps – fans will be pleased or relieved that someone has taken on the task of cleaning up the mess.

That interpretation is optimistic, given America’s reputation for extraterritorial imperialism. The relative unimportance of soccer in the U.S. compared with every place else on earth makes concerns about imperialism still more pressing. Through creative and aggressive use of a highly unusual American law, the U.S. may well be seen as attempting a takeover of international soccer. 23

*

Additional: The 3 Horse Race at FIFA

“This guy, if he gets in, will make Blatter and co seem like saints.” So wrote a very good friend of mine after hearing rumours (months ago) that another ex-footballer Luis Figo might be standing for the FIFA presidency.

Well, I have just looked at the odds for the various candidates and it appears to be roughly a three horse race. Prince Ali Al-Hussein is favourite – the bookies not the people’s. Platini is a close second, and next is indeed Luis Figo. So might it be that Platini was only the stalking horse — perhaps, Prince Ali too? Although if you are looking for a really long shot, then the bookies are offering 500-1 on Vladimir Putin (in the same spirit, I’m offering 1000-1 on both Bill or Hillary Clinton — take your pick!)

*

Update: Where were the auditors?

Auditors are fond of telling anyone prepared to listen that they cannot be expected to spot every fraud or impending disaster when they comb through a company’s books.

But the Fifa affair, which has finally claimed the scalp of president Sepp Blatter, raises questions about long-term auditor KPMG, which did not raise an alarm despite the openly lavish lifestyles of some officials.

It is just the latest embarrassment for KPMG – the firm audited a string of scandal-hit clients including HSBC, HBOS, the Co-op Bank and US mortgage lender Fannie Mae, apparently without noticing anything amiss.

It is not alone. Its peers, EY, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Deloitte also stand accused of not spotting impending disasters on their client lists.

The latest furore inevitably raises questions not only over the conduct of KPMG, but the wider issue of how accountable are the accountants.

‘The Fifa affair begs a question of exactly what are audits good for,’ says Professor Prem Sikka of Essex University Business School.

‘If the auditors can’t spot millions of pounds going astray over many years, what can they do?

Click here to read the full article at thisismoney, which questions the ‘revolving door syndrome’ between accountancy firms, corporate boardrooms and our financial regulators.

*

1 From an article entitled “Loretta Lynch confirmation as attorney general dogged by HSBC scandal” written by Dan Roberts, published in the Guardian on February 20, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/feb/20/loretta-lynch-confirmation-attorney-general-hsbc-scandal

2 From an article entitled “U.S. Treats FIFA Like the Mafia” written by Noah Feldman, published by Bloomberg View on May 27, 2015. http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2015-05-27/u-s-treats-fifa-like-the-mafia

3 From an article entitled “Fifa: Blatter refuses to quit as president & vows ‘to restore trust’” published by BBC news on May 28, 2015. http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/football/32914907

4 Quoted here: http://www.morningstar.co.uk/uk/news/AN_1432819609175844000/platini-calls-on-blatter-to-step-down-uefa-to-attend-fifa-congress.aspx

5 From an article entitled “Nicolas Sarkozy ‘colluded’ to get Qatar 2022 World Cup” written by John Lichfield, published in The Independent on January 29, 2013. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/nicolas-sarkozy-colluded-to-get-qatar-2022-world-cup-8471758.html

6 From an article entitled “Qatar World Cup 2022: France embroiled in corruption scandal” written by Claire Newell, Holly Watt & Ben Bryant, published in The Telegraph on June 2, 2014. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/world-cup/10871065/Qatar-World-Cup-2022-France-embroiled-in-corruption-scandal.html

7 From an article entitled “Poland and Ukraine host Euro 2012” published by BBC news on April 18, 2007. http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/football/europe/6562527.stm

8 Uefa to sue Cypriot over Euro 2012 corruption claim” published by BBC news on October 28, 2010. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-11645694

9 The quote and details above are taken from an article entitled “UEFA launch legal action over corruption allegations surrounding Poland and Ukraine” published in the Daily Mail on October 30, 2010. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-1325142/UEFA-launch-legal-action-corruption-allegations-surrounding-Poland-Ukraine.html

10 From an article entitled “Euro 2012: Uefa urged to investigate $4bn corruption allegations in Ukraine” written by Luke Harding and David Leigh, published in the Guardian on June 20, 2012. http://www.theguardian.com/football/2012/jun/20/euro-2012-corruption-allegations-ukraine

11 From an article entitled US seizes on FIFA corruption to pursue campaign against Russia” written by Robert Stevens and Chris Marsden, published on the World Socialist Web Site on May 29, 2015. https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/05/29/fifa-m29.html

12

Outrage has surfaced over the case  of two Palestinian teenage football players [two teenagers, Jawhar Nasser Jawhar, 19, and Adam Abd al-Raouf Halabiya, 17] who were reportedly shot in the feet at an Israeli checkpoint on their way home from practise on January 31. Israeli security forces said  the two were trying to throw bombs at police officers.

Doctors reportedly said  the two teens will never be able to play sports again due to their injuries, and will need months of treatment before assessing whether they can walk.

From an article entitled “Shooting renews calls for FIFA to kick out Israel” published by Al Jazeera on March 5, 2014. http://stream.aljazeera.com/story/201403052234-0023531

You can also read more on the same story here: http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/palestinian-teenagers-shot-feet-by-israeli-soldiers-after-playing-football-calls-fifa-israel-ban-1439183

13

Ahed Zaqout, a former Palestinian national team player, has been killed by an Israeli bomb that hit his apartment in Gaza, Palestinian medical officials said on Thursday.

“Palestine has lost one of its best players, he may have been the best midfielder we ever had,” Gaza sports journalist Khaled Zaher told Reuters.

From an article entitled “Former midfielder on Palestinian national team killed in Gaza air strike” written by Nidal Al-Mughrabi, published by Haaretz on July 31, 2014. http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/1.608224

14 From an article entitled “Soccer Politics: Palestinian Bid to Expel Israel from FIFA Dropped” written by Stephen Lendman, published by Global Research on May 30, 2015. http://www.globalresearch.ca/soccer-politics-palestinian-bid-to-expel-israel-from-fifa-dropped/5452598

15 From an article entitled “Palestinian Football Association to push ahead for Israel’s suspension from Fifa” written by Peter Beaumont, published in the Guardian on May 29, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/may/29/palestinian-football-association-to-push-ahead-for-israels-suspension-from-fifa

16 From an article entitled “Palestine withdraw call to suspend Israel from Fifa” written by Peter Beaumont, published in the Guardian on May 29, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/may/29/palestinians-withdraw-call-to-suspend-israel-from-fifa-west-bank

17 Read more and find translation here: http://www.globalresearch.ca/did-israel-buy-its-way-out-of-fifa-suspension/5452609 

18 From an article entitled “Platini: FIFA ‘won’t accept’ Palestinian bid to suspend Israel” published by Jewish News on May 28, 2015. http://www.jewishnews.co.uk/platini-fifa-wont-accept-palestinian-bid-to-suspend-israel/

19 From an article entitled “Revealed: Qatar’s World Cup ‘slaves’” written by Pete Pattisson, published in the Guardian on September 25, 2013. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/sep/25/revealed-qatars-world-cup-slaves

20 From an article entitled “Qatar World Cup 2022 scandal: Bill Clinton’s fury at vote triggered global search for truth” written by Holly Watt, Claire Newell & Ben Bryant, published by The Telegraph on June 3, 2014. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/world-cup/10871114/Qatar-World-Cup-2022-scandal-Bill-Clintons-fury-at-vote-triggered-global-search-for-truth.html

21 From an article entitled “Clinton Foundation donors included FIFA, Qatar host committee” written by Rosalind S. Helderman, published in the Washington Post on May 27, 2015. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2015/05/27/clinton-foundation-donors-included-fifa-qatar-host-committee/ 

22 From an article entitled “Clinton Foundation Donors Got Weapons Deals From Hillary Clinton’s State Department” written by David Sirota and Andrew Perez, published in the International Business Times on May 26, 2015. http://www.ibtimes.com/clinton-foundation-donors-got-weapons-deals-hillary-clintons-state-department-1934187

23 From an article entitled “U.S. Treats FIFA Like the Mafia” written by Noah Feldman, published by Bloomberg View on May 27, 2015. http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2015-05-27/u-s-treats-fifa-like-the-mafia

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