In May 2015 Swiss plainclothes policemen entered the luxury Baur au Lac hotel where FIFA, world football’s governing body, were holding their annual general meeting.
After enquiring with reception about room numbers, they went upstairs, knocked on various doors, and promptly arrested six delegates.
Later that day, on the other side of the Atlantic, in New Year, the Justice Department revealed 47 count federal indictment, accusing 14 defendants of charges including money laundering. Wire fraud, and racketeering.
Those accused included FIFA executives, a broadcasting company, and sports marketing executive.
It followed an investigation centred around deals brokered between FIFA, sports marketing groups and broadcasting companies for the TV rights for the World Cup, and other major football tournaments, specifically involving the CONMEBOL (South America) and CONCACAF (North and Central America and Caribbean) Football Federations.
The claims, dating back to 1991, were that bribes worth in excess of US $150 million had been paid to well -paid FIFA executives in exchange for exclusive TV rights.
The genesis of the charges lay with an earlier investigation into the activities of Chuck Blazer. He had been CONCACAF’s General Secretary from 1990 until 2011, and also been Executive Vice President of the US Soccer Federation,
In 2013 he admitted to conspiring with other FIFA Executive Committee members toa accepting bribes which led to South Africa being awarded the 2010 World Cup instead of Morocco.
And, together with fellow CONCACAF executive, Jack Warner, he was accused of corruption on a massive scale.
Blazer was forced to become an informant for both the FBO and the IRS, and it was partly his testimony that led to the 2015 arrests.
Subsequently many of those indicted either pled guilty, and were convicted, whilst others were forced to surrender their assets and make restitution for the funds they had stolen. In some cases, criminal proceedings are still continuing, but Blazer died before he could face trial.
However, it is impossible to discuss the FIFA corruption scandal without discussing the roleplayed by Sepp Blatter, President of the organisation between 1998 and 2015. Under his leadership, FIFA became known for its murky financial dealings, and it is no coincidence that the scandal happened on his watch -even if he has never been directly implicated in it.
One of the reasons why FIFA is so susceptible to corruption is its unique organisational structure, where each of the 209 football associations subscribing to it having an equal voice and representation. That means a tiny country like Andorra has the same voting rights as Brazil, Germany, and England, for example.
And that makes smaller football associations and their executives more malleable when it comes to side-deals and corrupt approaches.
Blatter was forced to resign later that year anyway over unauthorised payments made to UEFA president Michel Platini. Although both men denied any impropriety, the FIFA ethics committee disagreed and banned them both from football for eight years. Blatter’s sentence was reduced to six years on appeal, but last week, FIFA slapped a further six year eight month ban on him to start when his current sentence expires in November.
The 85-year-old is also facing a separate criminal investigation in Switzerland over a failed FIFA museum project.
His legacy though is an organisation though that has become a by-word or corruption.
For example, there are still serous question marks about the award of the 2018 World Cup to Russia and 2022 hosting rights to Qatar, a Middle Eastern kingdom with no record of top-flight soccer, and where summer temperatures mean that the tournament has to be moved to the winter for the first time.
Sadly, for the organisation’s reputation, there may be many more skeletons in the FIFA cupboard yet to be uncovered in the years to come.
Andy is an exiled English football fan living in Cyprus. He loves all sports but football is his abiding passion, and he still has dreams every now and then about scoring the winning goal in a Wembley Cup Final, even though his playing days are long gone. He follows most major leagues, across Europe at least, and has a favoured team in each. When he’s not watching, listening, reading or downloading podcasts about football, he spend his time worrying about his beloved Arsenal.