While it is patently true that “all good things must come to an end”, what we find fascinating is the means by which “the end” comes. Most of the time we just like to witness it in modes similar to our fascination with train wrecks.
We become mesmerized by the sheer immensity of such tragedies, transfixed from a distance, but the closer we get to the actual spectacle, we begin to sense the scope and magnitude of the tragedy, and our view quickly transforms from fascination to shock and dismay.
Of those with whom I have discussed the recent travails of the exposed Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), there is a sense of disbelief that such a venerated organization with so much power and influence over the world’s most popular sport could have gone so very far astray.
Let me back up. FIFA was founded in 1904, is based in Zurich, Switzerland, has 209 member associations, and is governed by Swiss law. Its website proudly boasts that “…its goal, enshrined in its Statutes, is the constant improvement of football” (read “soccer” for us American Barbarians). We are also introduced to “What we stand for” on their website: “FIFA’s mission is to develop football everywhere and for all, to touch the world through its inspiring tournaments and to build a better future through the power of the game.”
Today, those pronouncements have a hollow ring to them as the “Tower of FIFA”, put in place brick by brick over a century ago, lends an eerie similarity to the plight of the Tower of Babel from Genesis 11 in The Bible.
Through a process almost three decades old, perhaps older, a systemic protocol involving bribes, kick-backs, and other under-the-table dealings, has been exposed in the past fortnight. With it, fourteen (14) FIFA officials have been indicted by the Swiss and United States governments on a variety of charges including violation of the US’s RICO Statutes – that’s right, RICO! The derivation of RICO statutes was to combat…get ready for it…organized crime!
I cannot for the life of me conjure a scenario in which the governing entity of “the beautiful sport” (as the rest of the World refers to soccer) and whose professed platform “is the constant improvement of football” could be bound up in the same kinds of enterprise the fictional Tony Soprano engaged as normal commerce.
Instead of Tony Soprano’s cold-blooded crew and their machinations, the FIFA bunch more likely resembles “The Gang that Couldn’t Shoot Straight”, a satirical novel by Jimmy Breslin published in 1969 that roughly chronicled the exploits of New York mob guy Joey Gallo.
Just as the Tower of Babel came crumbling down, it looks as if Sepp Blatter’s Tower of FIFA is crumbling as well – but under the weight of its pride, its bravado, and its greed. Without pride, bravado, and greed, sprinkled in with a good dose of arrogance, how else could Sepp Blatter’s regime (should we read cappo regime?) have functioned with impunity for so long? And the longer they were getting away with their extortion schemes and apparent immunity to laws the more arrogant they became.
The cornerstone of Blatter’s nefarious empire seems to have crumbled in light of a couple of events: 1) the indictments of 14 top FIFA officials shortly before the FIFA elections, which indictments did not include Blatter; and 2) the demonstrative, if not irrepressible, Jack Warner, the former Senior FIFA Official, who vowed to reveal all of FIFA’s “secrets”.
Now, I am no Sherlock Holmes, but if I see someone elected to a fifth term as an organization’s president on 28 May and loudly cheer, “Let’s go FIFA! Let’s go FIFA!” as he banged his fist on the rostrum in accepting the presidency, then abruptly resign four days later, my preternatural CSI starts buzzing like my smart phone receiving a message.
I don’t know this to be any kind of fact, but my instincts whisper to me that Jack Warner let ole Sepp Blatter know that he was not going to go down by himself! Warner was not as clandestine as Salvatore “Sammy the Bull” Gravano in his dealings with Gambino crime boss John Gotti. No, Warner came out in a political ad in his country of Trinidad-Tobago on television. In that ad, Warner announced that he could not remain silent anymore in regards to the dealings of FIFA.
Call me crazy, but my suspicions, however undeveloped they may be, exploded in a cacophony of bells, whistles, air raid sirens, and the combined deafening crowds of Jordan-Hare Stadium, Tiger Stadium, and Neyland Stadium! Warner’s initial shots went over far more than the bow of Blatter’s leaking ship. And Blatter, ever the bold leader, decided to resign his commission rather than going down with his ship!
So the Tower of FIFA continues to crumble, and from my view that will be a very good thing, not only for soccer/football internationally, but for sport in general. The tales which are going to grab our attention like a train wreck will come out bit by bit, and piece by piece. They will shock us. They will astound us. And, like the train wreck, the closer we get the more tragic and banal it will all seem.
The greed of the FIFA “leaders” will leave us mumbling “…what the—-?” in disbelief. One FIFA official had two highrise apartments in New York, one for himself and one for his cats! And our ole Jack “The Bull” Warner did such a fine job of taking care of his own national women’s team, that during the 2011 Women’s World Cup, the Trinidad-Tobago team landed but did not have enough money for food. The real irony is that it was the Haitian team which provided meals for them. That’s right! Haiti! The world’s richest country in the Western Hemisphere! Must have made Jack “The Bull” Warner proud.
The ultimate outcome of this tragedy – “tragedy” in my perspective since it eclipses any sport scandal of this magnitude since Arnold Rothstein fixed the 1919 World Series – will probably run the gamut of charges, counter-charges, deals, and the entire panoply of options inherently woven into this kind of litigation.
The hope is mine, though, that as the Tower of FIFA crumbles there might emerge a figure like Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, Baseball’s first Commissioner and final product of the 1919 World Series scandal, who can deal honestly and openly with the cast of characters who have entrenched themselves and their treasures in that now faltering Tower of FIFA.
Dr. Arthur Ogden is Chair of Sports Management at the United States Sports Academy. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.