And so, his watch has ended.
Those are the words that the Night’s Watch (yes, we’re quoting Game of Thrones) uses to eulogize their fallen brothers. Those same words can be very applicable to the nine members of FIFA who were arrested in Zurich yesterday on counts of racketeering, bribery and fraud. One of the accused, former CONCACAF President (the administrative body that oversees soccer in North America) Jack Warner remains defiant to the last.
The Trinidadian, who was forced to resign from FIFA in 2011 amidst corruption charges, stated this morning, “If U.S. Justice Department wants me, they know where to find me. I sleep very soundly in the night.”
Tywin Lannister was only more indignant.
Fourteen people — nine FIFA officials and five marketing executives — received indictments from the U.S. Department of Justice Wednesday morning. Among them are current FIFA Vice Presidents Jeffrey Webb and Eugenio Figueredo, as well as Aaron Davidson, the president of Traffic Sports Inc. Seven of the nine are or were the heads of national or regional football associations at one point, and five are on the FIFA Executive Committee.
The marketing executives, mostly from North and South America, are accused of taking “bribes and kickbacks” of over $150 million to obtain the lucrative media rights to World Cups and other international tournaments. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, after the rights were obtained, they were sold off to broadcasting and media companies, who would then have rights to the tournament. (This DOJ flowchart explains the money flow).
But it doesn’t end there.
The FBI are also investigating FIFA and the bribery accusations behind the Copa America Centenario in 2016. The South American tournament pits the national teams of CONMEBOL against each other and is usually held there, but it was going to come to the United States and Mexico (both nations would be competing as well) for its 100th anniversary. It only cost $110 million in bribery to bring the tournament north.
Then there’s also the matter of one of the biggest footballing giants in the world and another contender for the Copa America — Brazil. Another (!) set of allegations from the DOJ came up about “bribes and kickbacks“ relating to the sponsorship of the Seleçao by a “major American sportswear company”.
Spoiler, it’s Nike.
In addition to the unsealing of the various indictments, the DOJ also unsealed the guilty pleas of four individual and two corporate defendants from 2013, which look like they will be major testimonies in the coming months or years. Among these pleas was that of Jose Hawila, the owner and founder of Traffic Sports Group, and Chuck Blazer, an American who was a member of the FIFA executive committee for 17 years.
Like Walder Frey playing the Starks, Blazer reportedly became an FBI informant and rolled over on his former allies. This morning, his Red Wedding finally happened.
But, like the Red Wedding, the main cast managed to stay away from the carnage, similar to the way FIFA’s highest ranking officials have today. The Petyr Baelish and Olenna Tyrell of FIFA, President Sepp Blatter and Secretary General Jerome Valcke, have not been charged in this particular probe, and will most likely be back in office after the FIFA election, which will take place on Friday despite what happened Wednesday.
So, now we are left with the endgame.
Blazer has played his part, and the United States is going to try its best to extradite all of the officials and put them on trial. However, extradition can be an extraordinarily long and onerous process. That is the first step, and if all of the officials are as indignant as Warner is, the DOJ will want to get them stateside sooner rather than later.
What comes next is what makes this so like A Game of Thrones — who will outmaneuver the other? Will all (or even some) of the officials roll over on people like Blatter and Valcke to save themselves, or do the two most devious men outside of Westeros have one last trick up their sleeves? Like Baelish, who is known to fans of Game of Thrones as devious and manipulative, but consistently a step ahead, Blatter seems to have a plan and an answer for everything, and this situation appears to be no different. If he is elected to a fifth term on Friday, the 79-year-old from Switzerland will have won again.
Common sense would seem to favor that both men were “firewalled” in all this, meaning that they were able to remain an arms length away from all of the actual dealings that could make them culpable. Could they and others within the Executive Committee conceivably have knowledge of this? Of course. But Blatter is a man who has been accused of corruption since he was elected in 1998. It will take a big effort to bring him out of the bubble of bulletproof glass he has built for himself.
But even more interesting is what will happen on the footballing level. Traffic Sports, who as a corporation entered a guilty plea along with Blazer and Hawila, owns the Carolina Railhawks of the North American Soccer League. They also possess the majority of Class A shares of the league, which currently has 11 teams across the United States and Canada. If Traffic goes down the way International Sports and Leisure (another sports marketing company) did, what becomes of the league and the Railhawks?
There’s also the matter of two World Cups that were (allegedly) dubiously awarded to Russia and Qatar. If the corruption and bribery scandal points to both bids being obtained illegally, do they stay in those countries? So far, FIFA says yes, but right now we are in the infancy of what can be a long and far-reaching investigation. And it’s safe to say that oil-rich Qatar and Vladimir Putin’s Russia will not take kindly to an international spectacle being taken out of their hands.
It’s only the beginning.
But as of now, the United States, the DOJ and FBI — as well as most soccer fans — feel as if Ned Stark had actually revealed the corruption of King’s Landing to the world, dooming the Lannisters and ushering in a new era of honor and peace. The challenge is now making sure that this will not be for nothing. Charges need to stick, people need to see jail time and fines, and the full truth needs to be uncovered. But most importantly, in the chaos of what will most likely be a upheaval of personnel in the FIFA hierarchy, the powers that be (or FIFA itself) need to keep people from taking advantage of it to elevate themselves, as Blatter seems to have done since he joined FIFA in 1975.
For chaos, as his Game of Thrones counterpart contends, is a ladder.
Contact CU Independent General Assignment Editor Andrew Haubner at email@example.com.