How Soccer Corruption Gets Kicked into the Shadows

As France and Croatia prepare for battle in this weekend’s World Cup Final, a new report warns there is little hope that efforts to end systemic bribery and kickbacks in the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) will succeed. A Michigan law professor says it’s time for Switzerland to force the organization to become accountable.

As millions of fans gear up for this weekend’s World Cup Final, a new report warns there is little prospect that efforts to clean up soccer corruption inside the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) will succeed.

“After more than a century of scandals and a broad array of Potemkin-like reform maneuvers carefully packaged in pleasant press releases, it is clear that, absent accountability, FIFA will continue to operate as it has, seeking maximum personal profit for those at the top of football,” writes Bruce W. Bean, a law professor at the Michigan State University-School of Law.

In a report published in The Palgrave Handbook on the Economics of Manipulation in Sport, and posted online this week, Bean offers a somber assessment of the chances for eliminating the chicanery that has plagued the professional football (soccer) industry since at least 1974, with the election of FIFA president Joao Havelange (who has been called the “Father of FIFA Corruption”).

 The report is unlikely to faze fans of the world’s most-watched athletic event, except possibly for the Olympics, as they prepare for Sunday’s final match between France and Croatia. (England and Belgium square off in a contest for third place Saturday)—and it is even less likely to surprise critics who have been calling futilely for reforms for decades.

But, in his review of the history of efforts to eradicate FIFA corruption, Bean provides a timely reminder of what happens when huge amounts of money become entangled with sport.

Soccer accounts for almost 40 percent of the $80 billion in annual revenues from sports worldwide. FIFA reported that it earned $4.8 billion alone for the four-year cycle ending with the 2014 Rio World Cup, with a profit of $2.6 billion.

The organization’s top executives have reaped personal windfalls as a result. In 2015, FIFA’s president earned a salary of $3.9 million, and the general secretary went home with $2.2 million.

The extraordinary wealth has contributed to giving FIFA “the impunity of a sovereign, rogue nation,” Bean writes.

As one example, ahead of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, FIFA successfully demanded the country change its 10-year-old law banning the sale of alcohol at football matches for the event.

But its vast global reach is also what makes prosecuting FIFA executives so difficult. FIFA is organized under the Civil Code of Switzerland, but it has had presidents from seven different countries.

Bean notes the Swiss government has not been cooperative in prosecuting corruption allegations, often claiming that its reach cannot extend to criminal activities in other countries—a reluctance that Bean says has earned it the well-deserved title of the “Nirvana for Sports Criminals.”

A series of reports and initiatives have been formulated to try and amend the corruption evident within the FIFA organization—with limited success.

An Independent Governance Committee (IGC) was established in 2011 to assess FIFA’s response to allegations of corruption in the past. and to make recommendations going forward. The makeup of the committee was not entirely independent, as was intended, and involved FIFA paying committee members $5,000 a day for their work.

The IGC published its first report in March 2012, which included recommendations to create an audit and compliance committee, add independent chairs for independent committees, establish term limits for FIFA executive members, amongst others. The IGC said in this report that FIFA’s cooperation with the investigation left a lot to be desired.

“Overall, the answers by FIFA regarding the handling of alleged misconduct were not fully satisfactory to the IGC,” the report, cited by Bean, said.

“Based on the discussion of specific examples, FIFA has—in the opinion of the IGC—shown a lack of proactive and systematic follow-up on allegations.”

The IGC released a final report in 2014 saying it was concerned about how seriously senior FIFA officials were taking the recommendations, adding that an outside, independent body should continue to work with FIFA to help enact reform.

Near the end of 2014, the chair of the Investigative Chamber of the Ethics Committee, Michael Garcia, submitted the Garcia Report to Hans-Joachim Eckert, FIFA’s head of adjudication of ethical matters. The 450-page report was withheld from the public in lieu of a 42-page summary prepared by Eckert.

Eckert’s report concluded that the 2018 and 2022 World Cup locations were not chosen on the basis of bribery—which was a hotly contested discussion—and that cash was not given to voting members in exchange for votes. Garcia responded by demanding the publication of the full report, and then resigning after his demand was not met.

In fact, half of the 22 FIFA Executive Committee members who voted in 2010 to choose Russia as the site of the 2018 World Cup, have been accused of corruption related to the process.

In 2015, the Americans became involved in the “cesspit of corruption” when U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch revealed a 47-count indictment charging football officials from CONCACAF, the Caribbean, Central and North American Confederation, and from CONMEBOL, the South American Confederation, with numerous crimes involving kickbacks and bribery amounting to $150 million.

But that only earned criticism of the U.S. for involving itself in the football world, with Russian President Vladimir Putin saying it was an attempt to “extend U.S. jurisdiction to other states.”

By the end of 2017, 24 out of 26 defendants being tried in the U.S. had pled guilty.

But the lesson drawn by Bean is that only the Swiss government has the legal authority and clout to end FIFA’s pattern of corruption.

Switzerland, which is home to at least 65 international sports organizations, should apply its own rules of corporate governance to the association, amending them as necessary to exert jurisdiction over FIFA’s worldwide activities, wrote Bean.

“The football world deserves an honest FIFA,” he wrote. “Switzerland must pioneer the way to bring accountability to so-called not-for-profit entities.”

Marianne Dodson is a TCR news intern. She welcomes comments from readers.


The Dangers of ‘Toxic Masculinity’ on Campus

Campuses around the country are facing up to sexual assault and violence—often committed by star athletes. At the University of Arizona, now hit with a number of lawsuits, looking the other way is no longer an option, according to an Arizona Daily Star report.

Universities should take a more aggressive approach to address “toxic masculinity” on campus, particularly in their athletic programs, according to a New Jersey-based sports psychologist.

“People want to pretend that they’re doing something about it,” said Mitch Abrams, a psychologist who specializes in anger management and violence in sports. “(But) what’s been done, in my opinion, is the equivalence of putting a Band-Aid on a gaping wound.”

Mitch Abrams

Mitch Abrams/courtesy Arizona Daily Star

Noting that sexual violence perpetrated by athletes is sadly common on college campuses, Abrams said many schools are using outdated or ineffective models to teach violence-prevention to athletes.

“The problems of sexual assault, sexual violence and sexual abuse are ubiquitous,” he said.

The University of Arizona, currently defending itself against lawsuits that claim the school’s athletic department failed to protect students from violence and sexual harassment, is taking Abrams’ warnings to heart.

Starting this week, an attorney who specializes in gender discrimination law will lead a comprehensive review of the university’s processes and policies and also examine how the UA coordinates with supporting agencies such as law enforcement and health care.

“There is no place for sexual misconduct and discrimination at the University of Arizona and we’re working to ensure that a positive and supportive culture reaches across the entire university,” UA president Robert C. Robbins wrote in an email to the Arizona Daily Star.

Robert Robbins

UA president Robert Robbins, left, pictured with AD Dave Heeke, says sexual misconduct “will not be tolerated” on campus. Photo by Kelly Presnell / Arizona Daily Star.

“I’m committed to investing in the people and resources needed to place our prevention, support and response measures among the very best in the country. Our students, employees and the university community deserve no less.”

But Abrams noted that bystander intervention training, such as Arizona’s Step UP! program, is ineffective and difficult to implement. Step UP! teaches students how to be proactive in helping others in situations involving alcohol, dating violence, gambling, hazing and depression.

“If these programs work, then why isn’t the problem ameliorating?” Abrams said. “Bystander intervention as a primary approach is deliberate indifference.”

The UA has hired San Francisco-based attorney Natasha Baker, who trains campus administrators about Title IX compliance and campus investigations, to guide a review of its processes and policies.

In his email to the Star, Robbins said that while the university “cannot guarantee that the incidents will not happen,” he is committed to making it a “top priority for us to do all we can within our roles as educators and employers to prevent them.”

Robbins’ email emphasized that the university is no different from colleges and universities across the country that are also “wrestling with reports of sexual assault, relationship violence, sexual harassment and discrimination.”

The UA has more than a dozen offices that provide education, counseling, health care, investigative and other support services related to Title IX, a federal law that protects students from gender discrimination.

While the quantity of those services demonstrates the school’s commitment to students, they will be better served by “gathering our existing resources in a more coordinated and enhanced fashion,” Robbins wrote.

The university, which has over 34,000 students on its Tucson campus, is defending itself in two federal lawsuits and one local civil lawsuit, all of which claim the school failed to protect students.

In 2015, assistant track coach Craig Carter was arrested after reportedly threatening an athlete with a box cutter while his other hand was wrapped around her throat.

After the incident, Carter sent dozens of text messages and emails to the woman, threatening her and her family members, Pima County Superior Court documents say. The woman is suing the UA in Pima County Superior Court for not protecting her. Carter and the student-athlete were engaged in a sexual relationship that the coach says was consensual.

Orlando Bradford

Orlando Bradford, a former Arizona Wildcats football player, will serve five years in prison for two felony counts of aggravated assault. Two of his victims are suing the UA in federal court. Ron Medvescek / Arizona Daily Star

In 2016, running back Orlando Bradford was arrested and charged in connection with choking two ex-girlfriends. A third woman told campus police that Bradford had choked her, but hasn’t filed a claim or sued. Bradford is serving five years in prison.

The two victims have sued the UA in federal court and one of the suits has since been amended to include allegations of gang rapes by football players. No details were provided in the claim, and it’s unclear if anyone has been charged.

Legal troubles involving coaches and athletes extend beyond the suits against the university.

Football coach Rich Rodriguez was fired Jan. 2, the same day a sexual harassment and hostile workplace claim against him became public. The notice of claim, filed by Rodriguez’s former assistant, says the coach fostered an environment where Title IX “did not exist.”

In 2016, the university issued UA basketball player Elliott Pitts a one-year suspension for sexual misconduct related to the alleged sexual assault of a fellow student.

Arizona officials learned the limitations of “bystander intervention” first-hand in the Bradford case.

Tucson police reports show that four of Bradford’s roommates — all UA football players — routinely witnessed him abuse women, but failed to intervene on all but one occasion. All four teammates, and Bradford, had been trained in the Step UP! program.

Rather than teach bystander intervention, Abrams said, schools must increase accountability among their athletes.

Some athletes and coaches “believe they have different types of rules,” he said. “When we hold coaches and athletes up like that, we can’t be surprised when they take liberties.”

Toxic masculinity plays a key role in violence against women, in that low self-esteem in men causes them to use physical power to regain control, Abrams said.

“These people can change, but they need treatment,” Abrams said, adding that schools often expel players when they recognize a problem, rather than offering help. “If we don’t treat people, we aren’t reducing the number of victims.”

He said that when schools learn athletes or coaches are violent toward women, many cover it up or kick them out — often depending on how valuable the player or coach is to their program.

When UA officials learned of the situation involving Carter, they quickly took action and fired him, even banning him from campus. Carter coached a sport that receives little national attention and doesn’t generate revenue.

University of Arizona

University of Arizona stadium, home of the Wildcats. Photo by Mike Christy / Arizona Daily Star.

Bradford, a potential starter for one of the UA’s two showcase programs, seemingly received more slack. Police reports show school officials were made aware of his violent tendencies nearly a year before his dismissal.

Abrams said sweeping changes are necessary to fix the problem. Without trying to understand how perpetrators think, it’s impossible to reduce the incidents of violence by athletes.

“It’s pennywise and pound foolish. Schools are prioritizing things to save their reputations but not addressing the long-term solution,” Abrams said.

“I think people would rather pretend they’re doing something about it rather than saying, ‘I really don’t know and I need to bring in people who do.’”

Admitting and addressing the problem is smart fiscally as well as morally, Abrams said.

“Risk management is cheaper than damage control,” he said.

Caitlin Schmidt is a 2018 John Jay/Harry Frank Guggenheim Justice Reporting Fellow. This is a condensed and slightly edited version of her story published in the Arizona Daily Star, as part of her journalism project for the fellowship. The full version is available here. Caitlin welcomes readers’ comments.


Notre Dame Can Withhold Campus Police Records

In a widely watched case, ESPN had sued the university to compel release of campus police records for incidents involving student athletes. But the Indiana Supreme Court ruled that Notre Dame’s police department is not a “public agency” and does not have to provide information about investigations.

The University of Notre Dame’s campus police department is not a “public agency” under Indiana law and does not have to provide information about investigations requested by sports media company ESPN, the Indiana Supreme Court has ruled in a widely watched case. The South Bend Tribune says the rulings means Notre Dame and other private colleges in Indiana with police forces have no obligation to provide details of campus police reports and investigations. City, county and other professional police forces must make such information available to the public under Indiana’s Access to Public Records Act. A university spokesman said the school is “pleased but not surprised by the decision.” ESPN said, “We are extremely disappointed by the ruling and what it represents for public transparency.”

ESPN in 2014 sought campus police records from Notre Dame Security Police for cases involving some student athletes. The university refused the request, citing its status as a private university, and ESPN sued. The sports media company lost in local court but appealed the ruling. In March, an Indiana appeals court ruled that Notre Dame’s police department is a public agency and subject to Indiana’s open records laws, rejecting the university’s arguments that its police records should remain closed. Notre Dame appealed to the state’s high court, which revered that decision, ruling unanimously that the private university’s police department isn’t a public agency that falls under the state open records law.