- - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The incredible irony behind professional soccer’s largest scandal to date is the fact that the sport was brought to its knees by judicial authorities in a country where soccer is largely a suburban endeavor practiced by kids cheered on by their moms and dads. Yes, the U.S. has both a men’s and women’s professional soccer team that compete on a worldwide level – sometimes even winning against worthy opponents – but the level of hysteria many countries experience when it comes to soccer is nowhere to be found here in the United States. Yet it was professional soccer’s attempts to make inroads in the U.S. that got authorities here in the states interested in how the sport’s governing body works and ultimately lead to corruption charges that have convulsed professional soccer.

The Federation Internationale de Football Association, better known by its acronym FIFA, is the group responsible for running professional soccer on a worldwide level. It has long been rumored to be one of the most corrupt and graft-ridden organizations in the world — some even say it is the most corrupt sports organization anywhere — that no one was really surprised when the U.S. Justice Department lowered the boom recently and arrested seven of FIFA’s top executives. What surprised many was that it was the U.S. that initiated the investigation — the FBI specifically — and indicted 14 current and former FIFA officials on charges of “rampant, systemic and deep-rooted corruption.” But walk around any Main Street USA and most would respond with a blank stare when asked about the FIFA scandal. It’s only in the rest of the world obsessed with soccer that people are shaken and up in arms, incredulous that it was the U.S. — not Germany, not Brazil, not Spain, not Argentina or the French — that said the FIFA emperors wear no clothes.

Most agree that the real focus was when FIFA decided to award the 2022 World Cup to the tiny but wealthy Gulf state of Qatar, leaving many scratching their heads wondering who thought it was a good idea to hold soccer matches in the summertime in the middle of the desert. Surely someone’s hand was greased, or at least that was the thought, but FIFA last year decided not to release its own investigation into corruption, and just made public an executive summary that stated no one had done anything wrong. The American lawyer who had put together the report resigned in protest. The FBI began investigating FIFA several years ago, looking not only at the bidding for the world cup that was awarded to Qatar but also the one awarded to Russia in 2018. Naturally those involved are not happy that the U.S. is involved, with Russian President Vladimir Putin saying that American should “butt out.”

Just how was the U.S. able to indict so many — all of whom were overseas? Because the FBI says the corruption was planned here in the U.S. and U.S. banks were used to transfer money.

The rest of the world was so used to FIFA’s rampant corruption and was even used to the allegations that child slave labor was used to build stadiums, that no one really had gone after the group. Until the U.S. came along. Here in the states, we still hold to the concept of “fair play” and “good sportsmanship.”

Any allegation or story of player misbehavior or officials or management not doing the right thing are met with a nearly nonstop level of outrage. Just look at all the brouhaha over the deflated-football charges leveled against the New England Patriots. We don’t like corruption and graft, and certainly don’t tolerate it if it’s rampant and long-term. It was that uniquely American way of thinking that finally brought attention to a long festering problem in a sport few Americans hold as dear as the rest of the world, and this is only the beginning. The long arm of the American law is still alive and well, and any allegation of the U.S.’s demise as a world influence is obviously complete fabrication.

Patricia Guadalupe is a freelance writer and a contributor to NBC News, where she contribute articles focusing on the nation’s fast-growing Latino community. Stories include efforts to increase the number of Latinas in elected office, and groups working to stave off Alzheimer’s by dancing.

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