Soccer is the world’s most popular sport and is making great strides in America. Awash in billions of dollars, it is also one of the most corrupt, with a long, sordid history of match-fixing, bribery and other scandals.
So it’s past time that top officials with FIFA, soccer’s global governing body, are facing allegations of fraud, racketeering and money laundering.
Fans everywhere should hope that this case finally cleans up the “beautiful game” they love so much.
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced Wednesday that 14 people, including seven FIFA officials arrested in a luxury hotel in Zurich, have been indicted in schemes involving the selection of South Africa to host the 2010 World Cup, the 2011 FIFA presidential elections and several lucrative sports-marketing deals.
The investigation has only started into what officials described as “rampant, systemic and deep-rooted” corruption they compared to the mob and international drug cartels.
All seven FIFA executives charged are connected with the two confederations covering North America and South America. Four sports-marketing executives are accused of paying more than $150 million in bribes and kickbacks.
Meanwhile, Swiss prosecutors opened their own probe into the awarding of the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, a ridiculous choice. To escape the blazing hot summers in the tiny Persian Gulf nation, the competition had to be moved to November and December.
FIFA, a multibillion-dollar fiefdom, claims it is fully cooperating with the inquiry. That’s hard to fathom when it is planning to proceed with the Friday re-election of the contemptible Sepp Blatter, widely viewed as the most powerful person in sports.
Somehow Blatter, expected to win a fifth term as president, has avoided criminal charges so far. But the alleged misbehavior happened during his 17-year reign. If he had any honor, he would step aside.
FIFA also ruled out a re-vote on the 2018 and 2022 World Cup sites. That isn’t a surprise. It hired a former U.S. attorney to investigate the bid process, but then buried the report and cleared itself.
With these federal charges, those days are over. Prosecutors here and in Switzerland should aggressively pursue this case wherever it leads. The future of soccer is at stake.