The U.S. Soccer Federation got kicked around Wednesday at a Senate subcommittee hearing that looked into the corruption of FIFA, soccer’s international governing organization.
Members of the Senate subcommittee on consumer protection, public safety, insurance and data security took turns condemning FIFA, its president, Sepp Blatter, and volleying questions at Dan Flynn, the CEO and secretary general of the U.S. Soccer Federation about why the organization, which governs soccer in the United States, didn’t try to call out corruption in FIFA. Several top FIFA officials were indicted on a variety of corruption-related charges by the United States in May.
“What has been revealed is a mafia-style crime scheme in charge of this sport,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, the senior Democrat on the subcommittee. “My only hesitation in using that term is that it’s almost insulting to the mafia, because the mafia would never be so blatant, overt and arrogant in its corruption.”
Blumenthal criticized U.S. Soccer for not exposing FIFA’s corruption long before the U.S. Department of Justice indicted nine FIFA officials and five corporate executives for racketeering, bribery, wire fraud and money laundering this May.
They either knew about it or they didn’t know about it, and I don’t know which is worse.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.
“The facts show that there had to be either willful ignorance or blatant incompetence among many of the members of this organization and that’s true of U.S. Soccer as well,” Blumenthal said. “They either knew about it or they didn’t know about it, and I don’t know which is worse.”
Flynn told the Senators that he didn’t know anything about corruption in either FIFA or CONCACAF, the division of FIFA that the U.S. is a part of. However, he did say that he felt “discomfort” during some of the meetings at CONCACAF and how Jack Warner, who was among the officials indicted, ran meetings.
“He had hand votes instead of sealed votes,” Flynn ssaid. “Those led to a feeling of discomfort.”
Flynn went on to say that U.S. Soccer didn’t speak up because its officials felt they only had two options, to try to reform FIFA from within or to pull out of FIFA all together. Opting to stay in, they worked to get Sunil Gulati, the president of U.S. Soccer elected to a position in FIFA. He’s now on FIFA’s executive committee.
If America’s soccer leaders had taken action when they should have done, Blazer and Warner would have been in jail, with Blatter seeking asylum in Zimbabwe and the 2022 World Cup being hosted by the USA.
Andrew Jennings, journalist
“We felt we had to find a way to participate, work our way through,” Flynn said. “Fortunately through a closed vote, Mr. Gulati was elected.”
The senators weren’t alone in questioning U.S. Soccer’s lack of response. Andrew Jennings, a Scottish investigative journalist who has written books about corruption in FIFA, said that America didn’t do enough. He noted that one of the indicted officials, Chuck Blazer, was also executive vice president of U.S. Soccer.
“If America’s soccer leaders had taken action when they should have done,” Jennings said, “Blazer and Warner would have been in jail, with Blatter seeking asylum in Zimbabwe and the 2022 World Cup being hosted by the USA.”
The subcommittee also addressed allegations of human rights violations in the construction of soccer facilities in Qatar, where the World Cup, soccer’s championship and the globe’s most viewed sporting event, will be played in 2022.
“When FIFA awarded the 2022 World Cup to Qatar it assumed a responsibility for the human rights impact of that decision,” said Sunjeev Bery, the advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa for Amnesty International.
Jennings and other members of the panel said that corporate partners should pull out of FIFA until there are no more humans rights violations in Qatar and corruption within the organization has been eradicated.
“You can do it,” Jennings said. “You’ve got the sponsors, you’ve got the media and you’ve got the moral leadership.”
After some senators questioned why the U.S. women’s team got only $2 million for winning their World Cup this year when the men’s team got $8 million for losing in the quarterfinals last year’s version, the conversation flipped back to what the U.S. can do to fix FIFA.
Michael Hershman, the president and CEO of the Fairfax Group, an organization that has given recommendations to FIFA on how to reform, said that no change can happen until FIFA is forced to become more open and Blatter is no longer president. Blatter has said he plans to resign.
But to Jennings, the organization is already finished.
“FIFA is now a smelly shell,” Jennings said. “That’s all. There’s no credibility.”