The arrest of seven FIFA officials in Zurich at the best of US lawmakers, two days before the football ruling body’s annual congress, casts a harsh light not so much on the way FIFA is run but on the assertion by the US of its right to police the world.
The manner and timing of the arrests eclipses the gravity of the corruption allegations that have been levelled against the seven officials concerned, indicted by the US Justice Department and arrested at a Zurich hotel by Swiss authorities working in cooperation with their US counterparts. In total fourteen individuals have been indicted on charges of corruption in connection with the investigation, with the seven arrested in Switzerland now facing extradition to the United States. None of the seven is a US citizen.
Putting this event into some sort of context, just imagine for a moment the international backlash if either Russia or China decided to organize the arrest of citizens of another country in a third country, without first taking the trouble to consult the appropriate authorities of the countries in which the individuals concerned are nationals and/or citizens. The resulting backlash would be off the scale, especially in the US, adding more fuel to the Russophobia and Sinophobia that is already prevalent there, as well as throughout the West among its allies.
The question a world interested in the right of national sovereignty, independence, respect, and international legality is entitled to ask is this: exactly where does this assertion of the right by the US to run its writ anywhere it sees fit stem from?
The answer of course is obvious. The astounding arrogance we have just witnessed on the part of the United States is a malign product of the unfettered power it has enjoyed and abused for too many years by now, evident in the chaos and crisis it has sown across a globe that has been plunged into a perennial cycle of conflict and instability.
Unsurprisingly, almost as soon as the US FIFA arrest operation was mounted, the call to have Russia stripped of hosting the 2018 World Cup grew to a crescendo. There were even calls to have it moved to England instead. How convenient.
The resulting re-election of Sepp Blatter as FIFA president at the congress, which continued regardless, came as a rebuke to a clear attempt to undermine both it and him, with the objective of bringing about an end to his leadership. This is not to assert that Blatter is completely without fault in the way the organization is run – indeed there may well be serious and legitimate questions in this regard – but this ‘stunt’, for there is no other way to describe it, was a crude and transparent attempt to seize control of one of the few international institutions that remains truly democratic and independent of control by the West.
Sepp Blatter may have many faults but kow-towing to the writ of the powerful nations within FIFA is not one of them. In fact the only thing the US and its friends in Europe have succeeded in doing is to solidify support around him as a symbol of resistance to their tremendous arrogance. For what we saw with the arrests in Zurich resembled less a demonstration of the long arm of US justice as an example of US imperialism.
Under Sepp Blatter’s stewardship, FIFA has made great strides in developing football throughout the developing world. This has taken place under football ruling body’s Goal Programme, which since its launch in 1998 has put in place modern pitches, training centres, youth academies, infrastructure, and equipment, thus providing the foundation upon which football has flowered across the southern hemisphere over the past two decades.
Blatter has played a key role in driving forward these efforts, which is why he’s earned the respect and loyalty of FIFA member associations throughout the developing world, and is why they refuse to participate in the campaign of demonization that has been waged against him over the past few years, What ‘they’ dismiss as patronage, others call the redistribution of resources and funds from the developed nations to the undeveloped nations, providing the latter with the ability to compete on the international stage. Even more important is how it has kept alive the dream in the hearts of millions of impoverished kids of a route out of poverty for them and their families via football.
The growing controversy over the decision to grant Qatar the privilege of hosting the 2022 World Cup cannot be denied, giving rise to legitimate questions over the bidding process and procedures. The abuse of migrant labour, employed on the construction of stadia and infrastructure for the 2022 tournament, is a matter of deep concern and unless strong action is taken by FIFA in response will undeniably leave a stain on the organization and international football. But here the West has little credibility also. Qatar, along with the other Gulf States, has long been guilty of such human rights abuses, while remaining close allies of the US, Britain, and France. The word for this state of affairs is hypocrisy.
What took place in Zurich was an attempt to seize the leadership of FIFA. It was an attempt driven less by justice and more by geopolitics.
Sadly for them, however, it failed. Sepp Blatter was re-elected. In the end democracy won.