Analysis: US does football a service as Fifa’s house of cards begins to collapse

The decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar may have been tipping point

It’s hard to know quite when the US authorities first decided to directly involve themselves in what might broadly be described as football’s financial affairs, but few will complain if it turns out to have been 3.43pm on December 2nd, 2010.

That was the moment Sepp Blatter stood up in Zurich and told representatives from the countries bidding to stage the 2022 World Cup that Qatar had won. The US lost out in the final round of voting, Japan, South Korea and Australia having fallen by the wayside before that.

Qatar’s bid had been reviewed unfavourably by Fifa’s own technical and medical inspection teams but, with 11 supporters from the federation’s all-important executive committee (ExCo), they still came within a single vote of winning on the first count.

By the time the result was formally announced, the sense was more of shock than genuine surprise. Qatar had actually come to be regarded by that point as the favourites. The idea of sending the tournament there in summer – the time specified in the bidding process – was widely regarded as somewhere between implausible and impossible, but the rumours of their spending, of one type or another, were rife and everyone knew just how loudly money talks in football.


Still, the 14 ExCo members who voted for them were widely felt to have crossed a line even by the standards of an organisation with a reputation for dodgy dealing.

Add to their troubles

Fifa’s attempts to retain control of the narrative surrounding the issue in the period since have only added to their troubles. An outsider brought in to conduct an independent investigation ended up threatening legal action over the summary of his report that was published.

When continued inaction became impossible, prominent officials – including a couple of those at the heart of yesterday's intervention by US authorities – were charged with ethics code violations. However, most, like Jack Warner, evaded scrutiny by simply resigning their positions, which Blatter and co said put them beyond Fifa's jurisdiction.

The US tax authorities are, as history has taught us, rather more dogged. Warner’s close associate at the North American football confederation Concacaf, the fantastically named “Chuck” Blazer, managed his friend’s campaign to become president of that organisation while still himself unemployed. When the teacher from Trinidad and Tobago won in 1990, he immediately rewarded Blazer with the general secretary’s job and the pair embarked on what US prosecutors effectively described yesterday as a 21-year crime spree.

Blazer was actually a citizen and resident of the US where – among other things, it seems – he omitted to pay the appropriate taxes on the millions he raked in through bribes, cuts and kickbacks.

Many of the co-defendants and co-conspirators, as they are characterised in the remarkable 140-page indictment made public yesterday, were from other countries but they appear to have made the mistake of owning property, holding bank accounts or even just having meetings in the US. For the US attorney general’s office and the FBI, that was all the jurisdiction they needed.

Blazer pleaded guilty and has been co-operating in the hope of avoiding a long prison sentence. Warner and the two sons who worked for him, sometimes as mere intercontinental bagmen, are among those set to be prosecuted.

Yesterday's events – dawn arrests in Zurich, the announcement by Swiss authorities of an investigation into the 2018 (won by Russia) and 2022 bid processes, and the instruction to Fifa Swiss employees, Blatter included, that they may not leave the jurisdiction until told otherwise – must feel like a nightmare for those at the helm of an organisation that has often seemed to operate with a strong sense that it is above the law.


Certainly, the repeated claims of Fifa communications director Walter De Gregorio that the events of yesterday morning were “good news” for the organisation seemed even more far-fetched by last night than they had when he made them at a press conference before lunch. Key to his claim at that point was the suggestion that those arrested were North and South American officials arrested for corrupt actions in relation to events held on those continents.

That, though, was made redundant by the inclusion in the indictment of evidence of payments made in relation to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and the 2011 Fifa presidential election. Incredibly, in the first instance, when the South Africans couldn’t find a plausible way of making the payments to New York accounts controlled by Warner, they got Fifa to do it for them.

If the Swiss are half as determined in their investigations as the Americans, it’s hard to imagine there won’t be some pretty remarkable stuff to be uncovered in relation to 2018 and 2022 as well.

Uefa, meanwhile, whose president, Michel Platini, voted for Qatar, will not be thrilled by the inclusion of two of their vice presidents and another two representatives on Fifa's ExCo among those wanted for questioning by the Swiss authorities.