Seven soccer officials, all with ties to the North and South American regional confederations, were arrested and threatened with extradition to the U.S. on Wednesday.Here are some pressing questions and answers regarding the fallout.
Swiss prosecutors opened criminal proceedings into FIFA, and U.S. law enforcement officers confirmed their investigation into the organization following a series of early-morning arrests at a five-star hotel in Zurich.
Seven soccer officials, all with ties to the North and South American regional confederations, were arrested and threatened with extradition to the U.S.
Here are some pressing questions and answers regarding the fallout:
Q: What are the charges?
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A: Racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering, among others, stemming from an investigation into corruption that bleeds back more than two decades.
Q: Will this have any impact on MLS or the U.S. national team?
A: MLS is unlikely to face any blowback. The league released a boilerplate statement about the severity of the charges, and that should be that.
What impact this investigation could have on any future U.S. World Cup bids is more of a loaded question. When the BBC released a special report on FIFA corruption leading to the votes on the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, instead of praising the report for fingering dirty officials, FIFA seemed to blanch at the interference — and England’s 2018 bid surprisingly finished last.
On the other hand, the U.S. would be a natural replacement should momentum begin to seriously gather about stripping the 2022 World Cup from Qatar.
And any significant pushback from FIFA likely would be tempered by the gobs of advertising money funneled into the organization by American companies.
Q: What about that Blatter guy?
A: Blatter, who has been hugely unpopular among traditional soccer powers such as England, was not named in the indictment. And it didn’t take long for he and FIFA to double down, releasing a statement welcoming the actions of the authorities.
In fact, Blatter will still stand in Friday’s FIFA president election — some timing, huh? — and is still widely expected to win a fifth term.
Q: Wait, if Blatter is so unpopular, how does he keep winning?
A: The key to Blatter’s power — and to understanding the FIFA system — is FIFA’s egalitarian elections. Each of the organization’s 209 member nations has a vote, meaning that by catering to smaller and less-developed soccer countries, one can curry influence.
The Asian Football Confederation, beneficiary of that Qatar vote, released a statement Wednesday reiterating its support for Blatter.
Q: So for all the theatrics, this doesn’t change much, does it?
A: Not immediately. The seven officials arrested — one of whom was CONCACAF president Jeffrey Webb — aren’t minnows, but nor are they the white whale that is Blatter.
As Eastern District U.S. Attorney Kelly Curry put it at a Wednesday news conference, though, “(this is) the beginning of our effort, not the end.”
One key figure in this drama was Chuck Blazer, a former FIFA executive who secretly pleaded guilty to corruption charges in 2013 and helped investigators build their case. If they can get similar cooperation from any of the officials arrested Wednesday, the net could widen.
This could all just blow over, and Blatter has survived his share of scandals. But this was a laying on of hands to an organization that has long felt untouchable and above the law.
Even if Wednesday’s events end up being the high point to the investigation, the images of accused officials ducking into cars while hotel porters dutifully shield them from view with bed sheets will leave an indelible impression on the world of soccer.