By Beatrice E. Rangel
The decision by the US government to prosecute la crème de la crème of soccer leadership has presented the world with yet another disappointment: one of our sport passions is part of a network of criminal organizations that, according to the US Attorney General, "engaged in bribery to decide who would televise games, where the games would be held and who would run the organization overseeing organized soccer worldwide."
Most serious among the charges is racketeering, which according to Ms. Lynch, turned the world revered organization "into a criminal enterprise."
In short, FIFA is a racketeering corrupt organization (RICO).
And while allegations about corruption in FIFA have run for several decades, the depth, blatancy and entrenchment of a pervasive culture of corruption and greed within the organization has shocked everyone including even those who illegally gamble over soccer matches.
The raid of premises, indictments of top leaders and extradition requests of yet others on the part of US law enforcement agencies serve to alert the world on the direction the newly appointed Ms. Lynch will take the US Department of Justice: Worldwide application of RICO laws in the US.
She clearly is daring to is take advantage of the virtues of globalization to call the shots against organized crime.
Evidently Ms Lynch knows better than most public policy leaders. Because she was part of the three year long investigation of FIFA, she knew criminals use national frontiers to escape the arm of justice. But she also knew that extension of RICO tenets to prosecute criminals needed to make a debut in international affairs. She thus seized the opportunity and defined her mandate by giving FIFA a long overdue red card. And what better baptismal waters than the billionaire river of soccer.
Established 111 years ago in France at the headquarters of the French Association of Athletic Sports, FIFA was meant to become the promoter of soccer and mobilizer of fans.
By means of regulating the European teams and then adopting the South American Soccer teams and some African soccer leagues into the organization, the sport and FIFA began a long march towards globalization.
Two Frenchmen where behind FIFA's creation and consolidation: Robert Guerin, a sports journalist, was responsible for its establishment and Jules Rimet was responsible for FIFA's coronation as the absolute monarch of soccer.
Rimet became FIFA's President in 1921, crowning two major achievements. First, it was under his stewardship that the last outstanding European countries joined the organization, meaning the whole continent was now represented and total membership reached 40.
He also succeeded in convincing the British associations to rejoin after their walk-out on account of WWI.
It is highly unlikely that either of these prominent figures of journalism and sports would have ever seen the organization as an avenue to become "rich and famous". Quite to the contrary, they believed that "the sport was a means to promote understanding; friendship and peace among peoples". Accordingly, enhanced coverage of soccer would give new generations a role model for how to excel in life.
So when did FIFA enter the shady world of racketeering? According to the British investigative reporter David Yallop, the new and rewarding practice was initiated by Joao Havelange, a Brazilian who has headed the country's soccer association and left for FIFA under a storm of corruption allegations.
Havelange was the 7th president and the first non-European to preside FIFA. Havelange engaged in the business even before being elected. In order to defray his election campaign, he enlisted sports marketer Patrick Nally.
Once elected with Nally's assistance, Havelange brought the first sponsorships: Adidas and Coca-Cola . "Havelange had seen the future," Nally indicated at thr time. "He knew that if he became the president of the only federation already running its own high-profile world championship then he would enjoy huge economic power."
World Cup sponsorships, TV and radio rights, and a profusion of kickbacks slowly built Havelange's economic power, which he used to thwart the careers of potential rivals.
Notable among his victims were Edson Arantes do Nascimento (Pele) and Lennart Johansson, UEFA' s president.
But he also had close friends: Castor de Andrade, head of illegal gambling in Brazil was close enough to get a letter of recommendation from Havelange describing the convicted felon as "amiable and pleasant ... predominant feature .. loyalty .. good family man, a devoted friend, and is admired as a sports administrator."
But he also had yet another close friend who would enhance his power: Juan Antonio Samaranch, the President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
Samaranch globalized one of Havelange's business concoctions, ISL(International Sport and Leisure), by granting the firm Olympic sponsorship contracts.
When ISL went bust after having been accused of paying kickbacks right and left, the IOC decided to act, opening an investigation on Havelange who, at the time, was a member of its executive committee.
Not surprisingly, Havelange resigned from the IOC before it met to consider the report. Havelange then came to the conclusion that he had to relinquish his FIFA crown, choosing Sepp Blatter as his successor.
Blatter had, of course, been his mentee, thus the best guarantor of impunity.
As the US Department of Justice investigation suggests, Blatter was a clear improvement vis-à-vis Havelange as he managed to continue the policy contents while including more people in the execution of such policies without being signaled as responsible.
Blatter's political abilities are legendary. Not only has he managed to evade accusations, he also just got elected to a fifth term in the middle of this ongoing scandal.
And while the IRS promises to come up with more indictments, truth is that Blatter has reasons to be confident. He heads an organization that runs a huge gravy train. Executive Committee members get US$300,000 a year, plus US$500 per day diems. World Cup profits amounted to US $2.6 billion last year -- all of which go to FIFA's coffers. No surprise, then, that many of these organizations -- especially in Africa, Asia and the Americas - continue to be loyal to Blatter.
Beatrice Rangel is President & CEO of the AMLA Consulting Group, which provides growth and partnership opportunities in US and Hispanic markets. AMLA identifies the best potential partner for businesses which are eager to exploit the growing buying power of the US Hispanic market and for US Corporations seeking to find investment partners in Latin America. Previously, she was Chief of Staff for Venezuela President Carlos Andres Perez as well as Chief Strategist for the Cisneros Group of Companies.
For her work throughout Latin America, Rangel has been honored with the Order of Merit of May from Argentina, the Condor of the Andes Order from Bolivia, the Bernardo O'Higgins Order by Chile, the Order of Boyaca from Colombia, and the National Order of Jose Matías Delgado from El Salvador.
You can follow her on twitter @BEPA2009 or contact her directly at BRangel@amlaconsulting.com.
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