31 August 2018
“The story of modern soccer was really about the emergence of a new kind of business, one that turned out to have corruption baked into it nearly from the moment it was born.”
This book proves what many people throughout the world have known for a long time, that the people in charge of FIFA and it’s various other associated brands throughout the planet, have been dictated by a group of obnoxious, cheating, liars who have stolen hundreds of millions of dollars from football, money that could have and should have been ploughed back into the game at grassroots level and other worthwhile and needy causes throughout the world.
Anyone who knows even a little about football will be able to tell you that the people in charge of most football associates throughout the world tend to be run by and for an elite group of self-serving businessmen, who are more concerned with career development and the perks of the job, than trying to better the world of football. Traditionally these are often people with little or no experience of playing or even watching the game who come from a totally different world to most football fans, but are drawn to the power and financial opportunities within the game. In short these gentlemen, more often than not, are a bit like the same people you will find in most governments. A glorified criminal network, filled with gangsters out for themselves.
To be fair with this being an US led investigation there is a huge emphasis on CONCACAF and almost everyone concerned comes from or is based in the Americas. The author builds a nice combination of suspense, intrigue and gradual revelation, slowly pulling away the curtain with that glamorous façade to reveal the real pack of grunting pigs feasting at the trough in the background. The main culprits are all awful in their own ways, but they share many traits such as a profound sense of self-importance, an air of impunity, and an insatiable greed. Not a single one of the main offenders had a career playing football. Though the single guilty woman, Zorana Danis, her father apparently played for the Yugoslavia national team as a goalkeeper.
This is a clandestine tale of ex-spies, Russian oligarchs, kickbacks, and a whole band of corrupt FIFA officials. This is a hidden world of shell companies, SAR’s (Suspicious Activity Reports) and ‘structuring’ or ‘smurfing’. Bensinger puts particular focus on several of the big players, like Chuck Blazer who he describes as, “a morbidly obese Jewish New Yorker with a head for business and a shaggy white beard that made him a dead ringer for Santa Claus.” Trinidadian Jack Warner, Brazilian Jose Hawilla and Jeffrey Webb from the Cayman Islands, and of course the alleged ringleader, Swiss born Sepp Blatter, showing us that this really was a global operation that stretched its filthy tentacles all across the world..
Warner’s many acts, included handing out sealed envelopes stuffed with US dollars, giving each soccer federation of the Caribbean nation $40’000 in cash at an event in the Port of Spain, otherwise known as bribes. The money had initially come from Mohamed Bin Hammam of Qatar, who was buying the votes from Warner in order to run against Blatter for president. When it was all revealed Bin Hammam was forced to pull out and both he and Warner were suspended, Warner then resigned in June 2011.
“After decades of unchecked impunity in the face of scandals, the global soccer cartel was finally brought to its knees by one of the few countries in the entire world that didn’t seem to care much about the sport at all.”
Many may wonder why the US government had such a huge interest in bringing down people from FIFA, and it’s worth asking if that investigation would have happened had they been granted the 2022 competition?...Many seen this is as the Americans taking yet another opportunity to appoint themselves as the world police and tell the world what is best for it (which funnily enough always coincides with what is best for the US). But then again who else was going to do it?...and how much longer would the world have to wait?...
FIFA has been rife with corruption for decades. You don’t need to be a football fan to know that, Qatar being allowed to host the World Cup has just been the final, ludicrous insult in a long, long list. The corporate sponsors were happy to turn a blind eye and so were most of the nations around the world, though places like England being one of the more vociferous and persistent exceptions.
Of the many found guilty and forced to flip to avoid jail, they had to pay vast sums to the US treasury, the Argentinian, Alejandro Burzaco forfeited $21,694,408.49 but this was nothing compared to the $151,713,807.43 surrendered by the Brazilian, Jose Hawilla who died in May 2018. This is just a sample of the money gained through their long and arduous investigation; there were tens upon tens of millions more. Apparently this recovered stolen money is now “subject to a restitution hold” and that “any individuals or entities that qualify as victims” could apply for it. In March 2016, FIFA led by the newly elected Infantino, did exactly that, asking for over $200 million.
At one point Bensinger describes the World Cup as, “a uniquely modern, transnational mass public spectacle for a televised era, blending rampant consumerism, corporate interests, political ambition, and unchecked financial opportunism.” Which is as good a description as any. We see that profits were so excessive and record breaking in the four years leading up to 2010, that Blatter was boasting that FIFA had $1 billion in the bank and pledged to distribute $250’000 to each member association as a bonus, plus $2.5 million to each confederation. But of course times would soon change down the line when in 2015 he would record a loss of $122 million, followed by a $369 million loss in 2016.
This is a remarkable story of a long and established culture of profound and widespread corruption. It’s thoroughly researched and well written and during it’s best moments it can feel a bit like racing through a quality paperback thriller
Putting this book aside and focusing on the investigation itself. It is still an on-going investigation, but looking at the actual outcomes for those found guilty, almost every one (when they didn’t die of cancer first) seemed to get off incredibly lightly considering the extent of their crimes. As far as I can see only two or three people had to serve meaningful prison sentences, when the most of the others got away with just paying back the money they stole. In what way does this differ from buying justice?...It seems a very peculiar form of justice. All of the Americans involved seem far too pleased with themselves to acknowledge that they may have named and shamed many of the men from the Americas, got an incredible amount of money back, but as far as I can see that money is still not where it should be and most of the guilty have been handed laughably tame fines and suspensions and are now enjoying their freedom and are free to do it all over again, but maybe in a different sector. The lesson here seems to be, it’s OK to be corrupt as long as you’ve got plenty of money and tell us about the others who were corrupt. You won’t need to go to jail. Just pay most of it back, say you are sorry and then we’ll put some of the smaller guys in jail instead.
The truth of the matter is that just like the bankers and the politicians these deeply serious criminal offences get labelled as ‘white collar crime’ and so the only time that anyone is likely to go to jail is that if they are small time players, which is why the only people to serve time so far are unknown figures. It’s why the bankers never went to jail and it’s why we all know Trump would never end up in jail, because the laws of the land are made by white collars to protect white collars, instead they get named and shamed and fined or banned, nothing as drastic as taking away their liberty, that’s for other people, that’s for the real criminals.