FIFA should not be paid for its mistakes

By | April 14, 2016

Last month, FIFA reached out to the Justice Department to ask that some of the money be returned to the organization from the pot the authorities will collect from the defendants of its corruption case, including $190 million that convicted defendants have already agreed to pay though many have yet to be sentenced.[i] But this request for restitution is about more than just the money. Many believe the move is part of a bigger narrative the organization is trying to spin up that it has been a victim of the corruption of its officials. While the US government has helped FIFA to do so by going after the officials and corporations behind FIFA’s corruption—a reversal of its usual approach of prosecuting criminal organizations and not the individuals behind them—I feel the organization is being let off the hook far too easily and this money should be denied to it until it demonstrates change in its institutional practices.

Over the course of last year, more than 40 individuals and a handful of corporations throughout the western hemisphere were charged with bribery, fraud and racketeering by the United States Justice Department, many in cinematic, simultaneous predawn hotel raids and arrests.[ii] The largest corruption case ever prosecuted in the history of any sport, this crackdown on the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) has covered 24 different nationalities and includes defendants from almost every country in Central and South America as well as the United States, Belgium, Britain and Spain.

While the crimes were certainly committed by the charged individuals and organizations and while FIFA may certainly appear to be the “damaged party” for their actions, FIFA can plausibly be expected to have better internal auditing and checks against such an international ring of corruption. [iii] Any organization in charge of events as beloved as the World Cup and essentially every major international tournament and also responsible as a non-profit for the billions of dollars in revenue that come with being soccer’s highest governing body can and should expect to be held to high standards of transparency and ethical behavior. The failure of the organization to be able to independently audit the corrupt actions of its highest officials and affiliates rests squarely on its shoulders, even as we prosecute those parties that took advantage of the opaque and vulnerable system.

Sepp Blatter

For some idea of this failure to audit and account, Sepp Blatter was in office as FIFA president for 17 years before being forced from office. $28.2 million of the money that FIFA is requesting to have returned to the organization came from “years of payments, including bonuses, flights and daily expenses, to officials it now says are corrupt.”[iv] I understand on the one hand that FIFA’s coffers were taken advantage of, but I would argue that expenditures like bonuses for its highest officials ought to have been independently evaluated before being signed and paid. If the excesses were possible because the officials in questions were approving their own bonuses, that oversight in itself seems enough of a broken system to still indict FIFA as grossly negligent. In the case of travel and other expenses, anybody who has been able to apply to their company for expense reimbursements is aware of simple forms and systems of auditing and bursar checks to ensure that such reimbursements are justified and compensating reasonable expenditures. The blameworthiness of the organization, at least in negligence if not complicity, seems clear.

In this way, I would argue that the “damages for harm to its reputation” that FIFA is asking restitution for are at least partially its own fault. Maybe my argument seem harsh, but as legal analysts confirm that the choice to prosecute individuals makes the case itself easier to win for the Justice Department than if it also went after the multinational conglomerate organization that is FIFA, it seems like the path of least resistance was the one taken in this case.



[i] Ruiz, Rebecca. “FIFA, Embracing Role as Victim, Seeks to Collect Millions in U.S. Case.” The New York Times. 16 March 2016. <>.

[ii] “A Hemisphere of Soccer Corruption.” The New York Times. 18 December 2015. <>.

[iii] Ruiz, Rebecca. “U.S. Sees FIFA as Victim and Its Leaders as Wrongdoers.” The New York Times. 9 October 2015. <>.

[iv] Associated Press. “FIFA acknowledges World Cup hosting bribes, asks U.S. for cash.” USA Today. 17 March 2016. <>.

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One thought on “FIFA should not be paid for its mistakes

  1. Seth Johnson

    Hi Leonard,
    I agree with the analysis that you have provided here, and do not necessarily believe that your argument is too harsh in any manner. As an organization that is responsible for organizing such prestigious events worldwide, FIFA should have put in place a much more stringent system of checks and balances on its executives in order to prevent the problems that are being uncovered within the organization. The biggest problem that I see with the issue is that the corruption ran so deep within the institution—and maybe still does—that did not allow for such a strict audit and evaluation system to ever take hold; however, it would have been beneficial at that point to adopt a third-party organization to judge the ethical nature of the inner-workings of FIFA—like every other top corporation needs for its books year in and year out.

    In regard to the way that individuals are being targeted and FIFA is begging for reparations, I agree with your account for the individuals and organization to be viewed together. Like every other sports organization in the world, each individual member is a representative of the organization they work for. For example, if Adam Silver, commissioner of the National Basketball Association in the U.S., was found to be making fraudulent and unethical decisions within the organization, both he and the NBA would, and should, be held accountable.

    One particular point that struck me was the following: “The failure of the organization to be able to independently audit the corrupt actions of its highest officials and affiliates rests squarely on its shoulders, even as we prosecute those parties that took advantage of the opaque and vulnerable system.” I believe this is correct. Just because officials are corrupt does not excuse the system, nor are the officials excused because the system itself is vulnerable. There should be an expected standard of the officials to not exploit the system, as well as a standard for the organization to manage the procedures “within its own walls,” so to speak. FIFA and its officials both lacked ethical practices, and as a result, the rest of the world should not be expected to provide a ‘golden parachute’ to the organization that is begging to get more and more money. FIFA will be fine without reparations—soccer is not going anywhere.


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