As residents of a city once swept up in a bribery scandal involving international sport, we here in Salt Lake City would like to offer our sympathy.
Sorry, South Africa — you got hosed.
Your country is accused of paying $10 million in bribes to FIFA to secure the 2010 World Cup.
The good news: You played the game by FIFA’s (unwritten) rules and won the bid. We know how you feel.
The bad news: You got caught. We know how you feel.
The worst news: You overpaid.
Was that $10 million for one World Cup — or two?
Next time try offering a Wal-Mart gift card or a few custom-made shotguns.
It worked for us.
In all, 14 people have been accused of receiving more than $150 million in bribes and kickbacks to secure the 2010 World Cup for South Africa and to ensure the 2011 reelection of FIFA “President of Everybody” Sepp Blatter.
Apparently, the price of bribery in international sports skyrocketed between 1995 — when Salt Lake won its bid — and 2004 — when South Africa won its bid. By comparison, Salt Lake bought the Olympics off the clearance rack. The entire bid for the 2002 Winter Olympics cost “only” $16 million. That might or might not include the paltry $1 million in cash, gifts and other prizes — translation: bribes — Salt Lake was accused of throwing at International Olympic Committee members.
Either way, it now looks like a pittance, relatively speaking, compared to what South Africa and others spent. Blatter probably has half that in loose change rolling around in his limo. In light of the FIFA scandal, what was all the fuss about in Salt Lake?
The two scandals are not without their parallels, except South Africa did its business with FIFA while Salt Lake dealt with the IOC, which also held its Games hostage until the price was right.
At the time the IOC was run by the late Juan Antonio Samaranch, who insisted on being called “his excellency.” FIFA, of course, is run by Blatter, who, after being reelected for a fifth term last month, declared, “I am the president of everybody.”
Not that these guys are full of themselves.
After presiding over decades of corruption, both men announced they were the only ones who could clean up the mess (roll your eyes here).
Years down the road, it appears the game hasn’t changed much, except the price. Throw a lot of money at the little guys and you own them. Among those who have been accused of being on one end or another of bribery and other misdeeds in the FIFA scandal are officials from Cayman Islands, Trinidad and Tobago, Nicaragua, Uruguay, Venezuela, Paraguay, and British Virgin Islands. In the bid for the 2002 Winter Games, SLC greased the palms of officials from Korea, Congo, Cameroon, Chile, Mali, Ecuador, Sudan, Samoa and so forth.
Which is how the following happened: Even in the midst of the scandal, FIFA’s little guys pretty much secured the reelection of Blatter to a fifth term (and then he resigned). In the wake of the Salt Lake scandal, Samaranch decided not to seek another term, but the IOC made him Honorary President for Life.
Who says you can’t buy love?
When you deal in international sport, you must play The Price Is Right and FIFA/IOC is Bob Barker. The FIFA scandal upped the ante, to mix metaphors; Salt Lake’s misdeeds were almost silly in retrospect.
While the FIFA scandal involves millions and millions of dollars, Salt Lake was engaged in a cheap quest to make the IOC people happy when they showed up in town with their hands out. We — Salt Lake City’s bidders — paid for family vacations, plastic surgery and Super Bowl tickets. We paid for college tuitions. We paid the daughter of one IOC member $5,000 to perform with the Utah Symphony. We paid a $10,000 tab for a vacay in Park City. We bought door knobs for an IOC member (don’t ask). We bought dogs for IOC members — not hot dogs, but dogs with paws and teeth.
It was as if relatives we never heard of found out we inherited money and dropped in for a long visit, expecting to be shown a good time.
We gave away luggage, cameras, lawn equipment, a violin, golf clubs, sunglasses, bathroom fixtures, video games, computers, kitchen appliances, exercise equipment, and trips to the Super Bowl, Disneyland, Niagara Falls, Las Vegas and Yellowstone. We even gave cash to finance an IOC member’s mayoral campaign.
With the FIFA revelations, we have learned at least one more thing about the Salt Lake scandal: It could’ve been a lot worse.
Doug Robinson's columns run on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Email: email@example.com