Any breaking story involving scandal among the powerful inevitably entails other recognizable names, either as victim, confederate or kibitzer. Headlines in the last few days have been dominated by the arrest of top ranking members of FIFA, an acronym for a sports association that stands for the Fédération Internationale de Football Association. It controls the revenues which flow out of soccer football and has known cash reserves of $1.4 billion dollars, which — or so investigators allege — represent only a fraction of the actual moneys that the association deals with.
It’s president, Swiss German “Sepp” Blatter, is so powerful that he is described in the press as a de facto head of state, a sort of president or prime minister. “Politicians, star players, national soccer officials and global corporations that want their brands attached to the sport have long genuflected before him.” One can get some sense of the FIFA presidency’s scale by noting that an actual Middle Eastern prince, Ali bin Hussein of Jordan, is running against Blatter as an underdog.
It is therefore not surprising that another royal name should appear in conection with FIFA: the House of Clinton. The Washington Post reported that “in November 2010, former president Bill Clinton and then-Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. traveled to Zurich to lobby soccer’s world governing body in support of the U.S. bid to host the 2022 World Cup.”
The Americans were not successful. Instead, Qatar — a small, wealthy emirate on the Persian Gulf — became the first Arab country to be awarded the event. Almost immediately, the decision to place a summer soccer tournament in a country where daytime temperatures in those months often exceed 120 degrees drew fierce criticism — and deep suspicion.
Even before Clinton and Holder had left Switzerland, there “was a lot of talk that the decision had been bought,” said a person with knowledge of the private conversations among U.S. officials in Switzerland.
“Lobbying” is a term of art for a rather more less glamorous sort of interaction whose nature is best described by Morocco’s similarly failed attempt to “lobby” FIFA for the right to host the World Cup. “In 2004, FIFA’s leadership gathered to consider bids from countries that wanted to host the 2010 World Cup. Among the hopefuls were Morocco, Egypt and South Africa.”
In the battle to win the 2010 World Cup, more than one country was wrangling for Warner’s favor.
Months before the May 2004 vote on the venue, a representative from Morocco offered Warner $1 million in exchange for his vote, prosecutors said. South Africa countered: High-ranking officials at FIFA, the South African government and the South African bid committee had arranged for a $10 million payment from the government to the Caribbean Football Union, Warner’s home base of support, to “support the African Diaspora,” the indictment says.
The gratuity was delivered to a Paris hotel room in a suitcase stacked with bundles each of which contained $10,000. The psychological power of such cash piles should not be underestimated. It exceeds the presentation of an equivalent amount printed on a bank deposit slip by a considerable margin. Ten million dollars in hundreds weighs over 220 pounds and has a perceptible effect on people who will do anything for money. The dramatic impact of such a sight is typically depicted in movies by a close up of the actor’s face lit from beneath by the gleam of gold and jewels, while his mouth hangs slackly open in frank astonishment and greed.