Comparing FIFA to the mafia is almost insulting to the mafia, a US senator said, turning up the heat on football's corruption-tainted world governing body to reform. Richard Blumenthal made the remark at a Senate subcommittee hearing scrutinizing FIFA, after US authorities in May indicted 14 people - including top football officials over tens of millions of dollars of alleged bribes for media rights contracts.
Swiss authorities are also investigating the hugely controversial award of the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 tournament to Qatar.
The fact of the matter is that what has been revealed so far is a mafia-style crime syndicate in charge of this sport, Blumenthal told the subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, Insurance, and Data Security.
The only hesitation in using that term is that it is almost insulting to the mafia because mafia would never have been so blatant, overt and arrogant in its corruption.
He added that United States soccer chiefs knew or should have known about widespread corruption at FIFA, calling for urgent reform at the highest levels of football.
The facts show that there had to be either willful ignorance or blatant incompetence on the part of many of the members of this organization], and that’s true of US Soccer as well,” said Blumenthal.
“They either knew about it or they should have known about it – and I am not sure which is worse.”
He added: “The question is: who knew about the criminal wrongdoing? When did they know it? And what did they know and why did they not act more quickly?
“Those are the questions the US Soccer Federation has to answer today.”
US Soccer Federation CEO Dan Flynn, called to be a subcommittee witness, said he “knew nothing” about corruption roiling FIFA and regional body Concacaf for the best part of a decade.
Grilled repeatedly by senators – at one point Flynn stumbled over his words and sought advice from an aide – as to how much he or his US colleagues knew about the alleged wrongdoing, he said: “My focus and my day-to-day focus is to stay focused on the domestic side of our business. I just didn’t have any knowledge (of corruption) and nor did anybody I worked with have any knowledge.”
Also among the witnesses was veteran British investigative journalist and filmmaker Andrew Jennings, who has spent years looking into FIFA and did not mince his words, branding FIFA “low-lifers” and “sleazebags.”
He also weighed in on US Soccer chiefs, saying that they “had to know” about graft at FIFA and Concacaf, “but they looked the other way.”
“Corruption is not a game,” concluded Blumenthal. “It is deadly serious, it is criminal and it betrays the trust of fans. US Soccer had a responsibility to know. Either it knew or it should have known.”