Tomorrow, on Friday, FIFA – a top global soccer organization – will vote for its new president in Zürich, Switzerland.
The president who has been one since 1998, Josef Sepp Blatter of Switzerland (sometimes said to be the most powerful man of sports in the world), will face mainly Prince Ali bin Hussein of Jordan, an important aristocrat in his country, the current FIFA vice-president, and a great41 grandson of Prophet Mohammed (which I don't find remarkable given Mohammed's extensive and diverse sexual activities and the speedy growth of the exponential function).
Yesterday, on Wednesday, the Swiss police detained a group of seven officials, mostly from Latin America, because of charges that they have sold their votes deciding about the location of the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, some choices of the cloth sponsors, and the 2011 presidential election.
The U.S. government is working hard to get these folks on the American soil. Two obvious questions are: Why America? And why now? I am sort of terrified by both questions.
Corruption is a bad thing and it's true in soccer, too. But some not so negligible percentage of decisions is unavoidably compromised by corruption; corruption is a market's way to return to places where people want to artificially suppress it. People want to make money. Most people are not morally flawless angels. Even such imperfect people are capable of getting the chairs. And with all my respect to soccer (and sports), it is not the human activity in which I would expect extraordinarily ethical people to dominate.
Many people just perform a cost-and-benefit analysis. If the costs and risks (of being caught) are smaller than the benefits (the bribes), they may very well decide to participate in the illegal activity.
So I think bribery should be illegal, corruption should be fought against and investigated, and the demonstrable culprits should be punished. No doubts about it. But I believe that even the fight against corruption must respect some procedures that work and protect the people against the abuse of these anti-corruption laws. And I guess that despite the fight, some percentage of the decisions are and (always) will be corrupt – perhaps comparable to 10% – and I also think that no one should have the freedom to abuse his power to investigate – or not to investigate – particular corruption charges. Such a power to cherry-pick seems much more dangerous to me than corruption itself.
Imagine that someone knows about almost every case of corruption in the world, and given NSA's programs we recently heard about, it is not such a complete fantasy. This "someone" could easily use this information to remove inconvenient people, and keep or install convenient ones, almost everywhere. At least, he could change 10% of the composition of all similar bodies "immediately" and replace additional heads through the officials' responsibility for their subordinates.
Is it right that the arrests took place two days before the selection of the new FIFA head?
I think that the timing suggests that it's no coincidence. It surely looks like someone wanted to maximize the impact of the theater. In other words, someone apparently wanted to reduce the chances of Mr Blatter to be reelected. He had some information about the bribery and decided to use it at the optimum time. I don't have a proof of this motive but you would have to present a rather accurate and complete alternative explanation if you wanted me not to think that this is the most likely explanation of the timing.
It also makes sense to think that the target isn't necessarily Mr Blatter himself but the decisions that were made under his supervision, like the decision to move the 2022 World Cup to Qatar and especially the 2018 World Cup to Russia. If someone wanted to reverse those decisions, this could be an optimal strategy. No explicit charges related to these future world cups are known at this moment.
In this battle, it seems like we are comparing two sides which look like two evils: the conventional members of the FIFA boards that decide about things in the old-fashioned way and a percentage of these decisions is bought; and an external power that has enough data about all such procedures and irregularities in them and helps to decide about the decisions (and perhaps reverse them?) by selectively targeting and liquidating people at optimized moments.
Sorry but in between these two evils, I would still definitely prefer the former. No doubt about it. The Big Brother is a "cure" that is worse than the "disease".
Now, America wants the detained folks to be extradited. Why? What does it have to do with the U.S.? The U.S. is a dwarf in soccer. It is better in the other football whose ball isn't even round and on top of that, it isn't properly inflated. ;-) More seriously, what's wrong about this meddling is that the suspects are not American citizens; and the claimed crime didn't take place on the U.S. territory. I am no lawyer but everyone has to have an idea about the legal framework we inhabit to some extent and I think that it's obvious that because of these two facts, America has no right to get the suspects. Some lawyers support my common sense.
A blog at the Washington Post proudly claims that the U.S. "could" demand the suspects to be extradited because they found some convoluted links of the criminal activity with some sports organizations in Florida and that's enough: it's the required "jurisdictional hook". Wow!
You could find such a "hook" in almost every important event in the world. Does it mean that the U.S. claims the right to possess every suspect in the world? I can't believe my ears. Even during communism, the Soviet Union could use no such "hooks" to obtain suspects from other socialist countries; our sovereignty was much stronger than Switzerland's apparent sovereignty vis-a-vis the U.S. If that "hook" rule exists in the U.S. law, then it is incompatible with the international law. The international laws and treaties are above the U.S. law (and if some Americans fail to realize that they are and it has to be like that, they should be assertively explained this important fact), so these "hook" rules of thumb have to be invalid or irrelevant.
If America had this right to get all suspects with arbitrarily remote links to America, every other country would have to have the same right, too. Almost every small crime could quickly lead to geopolitical tension.
Vladimir Putin suggested that all these events starting from the raid were engineered in the U.S. with the purpose to remove Mr Blatter and/or revise the decision to organize the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Sorry to say but given the otherwise surprising activity of the U.S. in these events, it is extremely hard not to arrive at this conclusion.
Numerous people around soccer openly say that at least one of these two goals is their own and they want the investigation to develop into such outcomes. Most of the European plus Australian authorities have announced that they are going to vote for the Prophet Mohammed's descendant. However, the Americas, Asia, and the Caribbean will be among the backers of Mr Blatter which suggests that he should still defend his chair. The American officials' view may seem ironic. If you think that that the White House had a goal of placing a Muslim on top of FIFA, well, other Americans may still be among the people who are against the White House.
Incidentally, if there is a "big political goal" behind the arrests, it doesn't have to be about Qatar (that beat the U.S. to host the 2022 world cup) or Russia. It could be Israel, too. Mr Blatter was heckled by a pro-Palestinian heckler today. Palestinians want to push Israel out of FIFA and Mr Blatter is the main person who opposes these efforts. I can imagine that some anti-Israel folks around the White House could very well try to replace the leadership of FIFA for this reason, too.
I know next to nothing about either of these two candidates but it seems obvious to me that unless proven otherwise, Mr Blatter has absolutely nothing to do with the bribes that the Latin American officials took – assuming that they were real at all. It is physically impossible for the president to guarantee that such a thing never happens, Mr Blatter is at most the master of his own bladder, and that's why he can't be held responsible for that (and why it's right that Mr Blatter has mocked the calls for his resignation). Moreover, I think that in every organization of this size, there will be some number of corrupt decisions – a percentage that may become nearly accurately predictable if the size of the body is large enough. If similar illegal acts were enough to replace the boss, the NSA could probably replace any boss in the world.
So I hope that the charges will be honestly investigated and if there are culprits, they will be appropriately punished. But all attempts to "derive" much broader, perhaps global implications out of this localized crime – and the attempts to "wait" for some other "dirt" against the predetermined "villains" to be uncovered – must be stopped. And if someone shows his desire to similarly and repeatedly "benefit" from analogous localized crimes in the future, his throat has to be cut in the most legally kosher way we can find.
Is Blatter a symbol of West's irrelevance?
By the way, a few days before the arrests, The Financial Times wrote a story "why Blatter is a genius". It is insightful when it comes to explaining why Blatter is a "born Swiss porter" who is a great organizer, communicator, remembers the names of all the officials and their wives, can smell where the scent of banknotes comes from, and produces good world cups. When the places compete where the world cup takes place, they use all kinds of "weapons" – all of them may be interpreted as "some form" of corruption. And someone won.
But the most important point of that article is absolutely crazy: we learn Mr Blatter is a man who symbolizes the West's motion towards irrelevance. The non-Western nations take over (at least in soccer) and Mr Blatter has correctly predicted that it would take place which is why he is supervising this transition. I can't believe that Mr Simon Kuper was serious. Among the candidates, Mr Blatter is the most typical Westerner. Did Mr Kuper notice that the main alternative candidate is a proud descendant of Prophet Mohammed? Which of these two men is more Western? Which better symbol of the West could you find than a Swiss portier or a Swiss banker? Why wouldn't you see that the ability to organize championships in less experienced soccer nations (I replaced the words "less deveoped" because it would sound strange both for Russia and Qatar) is something that shows the Westerner's characteristic talents? After all, isn't the desire to care about the money a feature of the West, too?
The fact that many of the world cups take place outside the West was pretty much the original purpose of establishing FIFA, a global organization, in Paris in 1904. European nations were founders but the key other regions (both Americas, South Africa) joined within a decade. FIFA was meant to be a fully international, and not just "Western", organization from the beginning. So what decline is he talking about? In particular, FIFA has had a European president at every time from 1904 except 1974-1998 when the president was Brazilian, Havelange. And I don't think that something was badly wrong about Havelange (except that it turned out that he liked to accept expensive gifts, too).
The 1981, 1990, 1998, and 2006 world cups took place in Europe (SP, FR, IT, DE) and 1994, 2010 were in the U.S. and South Africa which makes the percentage of "recent" world cups hosted by Western countries pretty much equal as in the first part of the world cup history. At one moment, Mr Kuper makes it clear who is his "West" that is losing: the PC journalists in the Western MSM. They should have the absolute power and it seems that they don't. Too bad. But what he failed to notice is that the special PC bias in the Western media is a recent phenomenon; and even the less biased Western media were never supposed to be the "first power". Two centuries ago, Napoleon evaluated the press to be the "seventh power" and even that was clearly meant to be a witty overestimate of the importance of the press. So can't he and his comrades please stop whining?
Update on Friday: I actually watched hours of the FIFA Congress. I think that Blatter is clearly the right man for the job – especially the way how he treated the Palestinian lunatic (who generously withdrew the plans to kick Israel out of FIFA and replaced it by a plan to ban the Jews to play soccer on disputed territories and erase Israel from the map LOL) was highly constructive and professionally diplomatic – and at the end, I was very happy that he defeated the prince 133-73 in the first round after which Ali conceded defeat.