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Why the US Indictments Against FIFA Must Be About Corruption

2014 FIFA World Cup in Brasil; photo by alobos Life, used under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

2014 FIFA World Cup in Brasil; photo by alobos Life, used under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

Okay, so…wait. When the US Feds, in conjunction with Swiss authorities, raided a hotel in Zurich towards the end of May and arrested several FIFA officials, Jack Warner, the former FIFA vice-president who, curiously, has not ventured off Trinidad and Tobago soil for years and who was named in the indictments, vehemently denied that he had ever accepted a bribe, even going so far as to cite a satirical article from The Onion in his shabby self-defence [scroll to 5:01 on the video timeline below]:

So forgive me if I'm a little confused when, a week later, the very same Jack Warner takes to the airwaves and tries to implicate a sitting prime minister by inferring that he will release documents detailing his “knowledge and involvement in” FIFA's “funding”, how that “funding” was linked to the political party that Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar heads, and how that money essentially made possible the 2010 election campaign which brought her to office. Warner was sending a clear message to Trinidad and Tobago's political elite that if he is extradited, he'll take them down with him; civil society is now calling for a police probe into whether or not the government broke anti-money laundering laws:

You just can't make this stuff up. But hang on—it gets better. This is, after all, Trinidad and Tobago, land of the “smart man”. They don't call us “Trickidadians” for nothing. Warner kept insisting that the indictment against him was a witch hunt against developing nations, comparing himself to the likes of two of the most globally revered icons of nonviolent resistance: “Nelson Mandela made jail. Gandhi made jail. […] So who's Jack Warner?”

Who is Jack Warner? I guess it depends on which pill you swallow. There has been a lot of talk online about the motivation behind the FIFA arrests. One popular conspiracy theory revolves around geopolitical power. Also in the mix is race. I am not so naive as to think that politics and power don't seep into everything they touch, like effluent from a septic tank. I acknowledge developing nations’ desire to buck Uncle Sam, and that the United States, like other countries, has often brought politics into sport. But to suggest that the US has done this so that the “West” can regain control of the beautiful game and its even more attractive profits? To say that their Department of Justice, which just happens to be headed by a black woman, is out to get Jack Warner because he's a black man? (Most of the FIFA executives arrested in Zurich were white). I really do have to wonder whether all logic has left the building. Besides, if anyone appears to hold developing nations in disdain, it is Jack Warner, who was accused by the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (TTFF) of siphoning money away from Haitian earthquake relief efforts in 2010.

If you want to believe that the clampdown on FIFA was not, at heart, about corruption, fine. There are enough counts of racketeering, money laundering, fraud and bribery to make politicians’ heads spin, but let's suspend our disbelief for just a minute and pretend that the US government would be so inept as to carry out such high profile arrests without sufficient evidence to convict. If anything, the whole sordid affair has been about economics, with FIFA executives controlling the purse strings and the Global South singing for its supper.

Contrary to the way the world football governing body wants to portray itself—as either a veritable Robin Hood, taking from the rich to give to the poor or a fairy Godfather helping to make the football dreams of thousands of poor little brown boys come true—it has conveniently glossed over the degree of alleged profiteering that is taking place in between. Let's keep our eyes on the ball. Whatever other push factors may or may not have prompted the indictments, the core issue must still be corruption. Overlooking this for whatever reason—because your team got to go to the World Cup or because your country got infrastructure or increased tourist traffic—is a FIFA tactic, no different from World Cup players diving melodramatically on the pitch and trying to make the referee call a foul where there isn't one.

It must still be corruption because it is high time we connected the dots. Trinidad and Tobago's escalating crime rate, political ills, failing social services, and the economic chasm between the haves and the have-nots, can all be traced back to the beguiling smile of the “smart man”. The sudden possibility that white collar criminals could actually be made to pay for their transgressions, even at the hand of the United States, has made Trinbagonians positively dizzy precisely because such an eventuality is unprecedented.

But I'm still not sure whether the vertigo is caused by simple bafflement or intoxication over the realisation of our own power, if only we can properly harness it.

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