Follow the money. It was memorable advice from Deep Throat in the Watergate movie “All the President’s Men” (but not in real life.)
The advice also works in the belated investigation into the snake pit known as FIFA.
Sepp Blatter was always going to win re-election as FIFA president, which he did on Friday. Many of the voting delegates have been receiving lavish expense accounts, to say nothing of favors that made them look like big men back home, plus packets of bills, preferably US dollars, when they followed orders.
Now there is another pile of money to be followed as the world deals with the reek emanating from FIFA and Zurich. The money is from corporate sponsors – the multinationals with United States bases, Coca-Cola and Visa and the television networks, which do business with world soccer.
The corporate bosses in the States, who never wanted to know, have been forced to recognize, in public, that FIFA is dirty. American stockholders, with all our proclamations about religion and citizenship and saving the world, are facing the fact that a very foreign-sounding federation (and a still foreign-appearing sport) just plain stinks.
What is needed right now is a corporate leader like David D’Alessandro, who was running John Hancock in the late 20th Century when it became known that Salt Lake City had broken rules preparing for the 2002 Winter Olympics. D’Alessandro went public that the Olympics were not a good buy for his company, and he forced the International Olympic Committee to change the leadership in Salt Lake City, to bring in Mitt Romney. I’d love to see D’Alessandro address the obvious scandal in Zurich.
That leads us to Warren Buffett, who swigs ruinous black sugar water as if it were actually good for his stomach and his teeth. Buffett also buys copious amounts of Coca-Cola stock. He must now admit that he and Coca-Cola have been subsidizing a highly corrupt organization.
FIFA has gotten away with its crooked ways in part because the U.S. has been leery of soccer, except for the quadrennial World Cup and more recently the glut of Champions League and powerful European leagues. Corporate leaders – including from networks like ESPN and Fox -- must now publicly acknowledge that their partner is a devious burgher from Switzerland, the land of know-nothing banks.
One sign of progress is that Sunil Gulati, the president of the United States Soccer Federation and a member of FIFA’s executive committee, announced Thursday that he would vote against Blatter in Friday’s election.
Was Gulati voting from his conscience? Was he voting from the roars of corporate leaders back home who are shocked, shocked, to discover FIFA is crooked? Or is it some potent mixture of conscience and pressure? Almost doesn’t matter.
According to the admirable new Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, major crimes have been committed in the name of FIFA in American jurisdiction. This is Sepp Blatter’s nightmare. He always loved to belly up to the trough that is America, but he always seemed nervous because he knew American business is relatively (I said relatively) more transparent than in most major countries.
As rogues often do, Blatter committed a Nixonian gaffe. He hired Michael Garcia, a New York prosecutor with a great reputation, now in private practice, to investigate FIFA. When Blatter declined to release Garcia’s 450-page report, Garcia quit in disgust…and came home…to New York…where he has connections to FBI director James Comey and Lynch, the former leader of the Eastern District court.
Now we follow the money, right back to Omaha and Atlanta and Beaverton, Ore. and Foster City, Cal, and Bristol, Conn., and Los Angeles, all those corporate homes, the source of those American dollars.
Will the indictment of underlings affect the host countries for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups? Russia, putting current world politics aside, has a reasonable soccer tradition and centuries of history, plus it was a great host for the 1986 Goodwill Games. (I was there.)
Qatar is another case, with its lack of soccer history and its current reliance on near-slave labor. However, Qatar does have huge amounts of oil money, which it spends extravagantly in countries like France, which caved to Qatar in the vote for 2022. However, taking away a World Cup from a Muslim country may not be a good idea.
Then there is 2026. Gulati was the first person I ever heard talking about a North American World Cup, ranging from Toronto through the US to Mexico City. When it is time to pick a host for 2026, FIFA must be a totally different outfit.
I bet corporate sponsors have some kind of discretionary escape clause in case of scandal. Whatever it takes. Follow the money.
(Your comments are always welcome.)
“They may hate the cultural context they now find themselves teaching in, but they love their work. The Achilles’ heel of schoolteachers, one all too easily exploited by politicians, is that they love their students.”
(One of the best reads in the NYT these days is Margaret Renkl, in Nashville. In her latest post, Renkl describes the dedicated core of “born teachers” – the majority, she submits.)
(From Madeleine Albright in one of her final interviews in February):
“Putin is small and pale,” I wrote, “so cold as to be almost reptilian.” He claimed to understand why the Berlin Wall had to fall but had not expected the whole Soviet Union to collapse. “Putin is embarrassed by what happened to his country and determined to restore its greatness.” – Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, recalling her first meeting with the relatively unknown Vladimir Putin in 2000. – The New York Times, Feb. 23, 2022.