A newsroom idiom of a story “having legs” means interest in the issue or incident will continue for a long time. And less than two weeks into the announced corruption investigations into FIFA — Fédération Internationale de Football Association, soccer’s global-supervising organization — it’s apparent this story has legs, long legs — and lots of legs.
Meaning that, if you’ll pardon the play on another idiom, we’ll be waiting for plenty more shoes to drop.
On May 27, a 47-count indictment on charges ranging from money laundering to fraud and racketeering resulted in the arrest warrants of 14 individuals, including many top FIFA officials in Switzerland. The U.S. effort by the FBI and IRS revealed more than $150 million in bribes over a 24-year period, with media and marketing contracts used as kickbacks. The illegalities included Morocco’s unsuccessful bid to host the 1998 World Cup tournament and South Africa’s successful 2010 bid as well as rights to host smaller regional and continental tournaments.
Initially uncharged and unfazed, FIFA President Sepp Blatter — who since 1998 has ruled the organization that counts a $1.5 billion financial reserve and 3.5 million soccer fans worldwide — seemed untouchable. However, indicted individuals quickly announced “tell-all” plans, and just days after winning his fifth election, Blatter announced his resignation.
But when and how does the resignation take effect? That’s just one of the many proverbial dangling shoes.
• Uncertainty clouds Blatter’s resignation, which he said will take effect only after a special FIFA congressional session to be held later this year or in 2016. That’s plenty of time for the outgoing president to leave his fingerprints all over the direction, size and makeup of FIFA’s executive committee.
• Aided by the U.S. effort, Swiss officials are investigating the 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosting honors won respectively by Russia and Qatar — wins that were more eyebrow-raising and controversial than the 2010 (South Africa) and 2014 (Brazil) World Cup selections. No arrests have been announced, and other countries — including Australia, Colombia and Costa Rica — have started their own investigations into the possible involvement of their national and regional soccer organizations.
• Visa, Coca-Cola, Adidas and others warn the scandal may result in their stepping away from lucrative sponsorship contracts. Meanwhile, sponsors may have been key players, with one sports equipment manufacturer alleged to have paid $40 million in bribes to be the sole supplier of shoes, uniforms, accessories and equipment to the Brazilian national team. Multiple sources have identified Nike as the sponsor in question.
• Besides being focused on FIFA and its related national and continental underling entities, a spotlight of uncertainty now expands to the matches on the pitch. If bids, broadcasting rights and marketing agreements are fraught with fraud and bribery, what leads us to believe the match results themselves are credible?
• And just how will the United States be seen as it leads the investigation into FIFA wrongdoing? With the U.S. already eschewed worldwide for its alpha-dog status, is the investigation going to be seen as American meddling? Or perhaps sour grapes for losing the bid to host the 2022 World Cup to Qatar?
With all these shoes waiting to drop, it’s easy to say some something will be afoot for a long time in the global game of football.