FIFA, the governing body of world soccer, has taken a huge and well-deserved hit. The Department of Justice announced the unsealing of a 47-count indictment that charges 14 FIFA officials with racketeering, wire fraud, and money laundering conspiracy.
Meanwhile, Swiss authorities announced an investigation into the awarding of the next two World Cups to Russia (2018) and Qatar (2022). In addition, they raided FIFA’s headquarters in Zurich and arrested several top FIFA officials (but not the corrupt president, Sepp Blatter).
I have denounced the absurd decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, and I rarely mention FIFA without attaching the word “corrupt.” FIFA deserves to be investigated and, almost certainly, prosecuted.
I can’t help but wonder, though, why the Justice Department chose to use its “prosecutorial discretion” to pursue FIFA. The U.S. is a soccer backwater. These days, to be sure, there is plenty of money to be made here through the sale of rights to televise the World Cup, as well as through marketing. And it’s easy to believe that corruption surrounds such broadcasting and marketing deals.
But this seems like small potatoes in the scheme of things. Why is the Obama administration devoting scarce resources to bring justice to world soccer? Why not leave it to the Swiss?
The answer may lie in the most important recent intersection of FIFA and U.S. — the decision to award the 2022 to Qatar rather than the United States.
The Obama administration vigorously pursued the World Cup. Our lead pitchman was none other than Eric Holder, who went all the way to Zurich in pursuit of the Cup. I understand that he was in the audience (along with Bill Clinton, about whom more in a follow-up post) when FIFA announced that Qatar would be the host.
Having already failed, notwithstanding his personal intervention, to land the Olympics for Chicago, I doubt that President Obama took his FIFA failure well. Nor is it likely that Eric Holder enjoyed striking out in Zurich. These guys take things personally.
Is the DOJ’s indictment of FIFA retaliation for its “snub” of Obama and Holder? I suspect so.