The blurry photos on Twitter of plainclothes police arriving in the lobby of Zurich’s $1,000-a-night Baur au Lac hotel to arrest FIFA executives for alleged corruption don’t look particularly American. It’s just a couple of thirtyish guys in jeans who look like they could be grad students asking for directions to the frozen yogurt store, or possibly just back from an Ed Sheeran concert. Then some execs were escorted out into a tiny car, hidden by bedsheets.
If this had been U.S. soil, such a momentous event would have called for a SWAT team driving an armored Hummer through the front door, a couple of flash-bang grenades rolled into the Rive Gauche cocktail lounge and some men with assault rifles yelling “ON THE GROUND NOW MOTHERFUCKER” at everyone, including the janitor. Then the suspects would have been handcuffed and perp-walked past the waiting media.
What happened: Nine FIFA officials, 14 total indicted on corruption charges
Alas, Switzerland is a little more discreet. But make no mistake, this was an episode of Team America: World Soccer Police, and it was Uncle Sam kicking ass, taking names and exercising extradition agreements while the rest of the planet, who’d been moaning about FIFA for years without really doing anything concrete or useful, watched on.
The main question now: who’s going to play U.S. attorney general Loretta Lynch in the film, Halle Berry or Kerry Washington?
The second question is whether there will be repercussions for American soccer. In the immediate aftermath of the news there was concern that pissing off FIFA like this will cost the U.S. a shot at the 2026 World Cup, to which the only reasonable responses are: 1.) perhaps by taking action that could effect genuine positive change, FIFA will start choosing World Cup hosts on pure merit, giving the U.S. a great chance; and 2) considering the U.S. lost the 2022 vote by 14-8 to Qatar, the status quo wasn’t exactly favorable to America anyway, was it?
But this isn’t simply the U.S. swooping in on some dodgy Swiss-based international operation to do the world a favor, though it has a crusading element to it. This, on a formal and practical level, is about American law enforcement investigating alleged crimes with connections to the U.S., as footage of FBI agents arriving at CONCACAF’s Miami headquarters this morning underlines.
Jeffrey Webb, the CONCACAF president and a FIFA vice-president, is among those arrested; so too, Jack Warner, who held those roles until 2011. Add in the lesser-known, Miami-based Aaron Davidson, president of a U.S.-based events promotion company, Traffic Sports USA, and a senior figure within the second-tier North American Soccer League.
So the ripple effects will filter down from the highest echelons of FIFA to CONCACAF to U.S. lower-league soccer. All 14 men facing charges have connections to soccer in north, central or south America.
And where did the U.S. authorities get much of its information? Surely from Chuck Blazer, the American who’s a former top FIFA executive now reportedly turned FBI informant.
The allegations suggest that many figures with U.S. ties have for decades played significant roles in fostering systemic corruption that has damaged the sport from top to bottom across the world. Now the United States is cleaning up the mess.