Do you smell that, readers? Contrary to what you might think, it is not in fact, the smell of delicious Thanksgiving leftovers. Believe me, it’s something entirely less wholesome, because that’s the stench of corruption.
If you didn’t know, there are currently three former South American soccer executives on trial in New York City. They are accused of involvement in a 24-year scheme wherein no less than $150 million worth of bribes changed hands to facilitate the awarding of both broadcasting and hosting rights for South American soccer tournaments. Needless to say, its been quite the affair, with around 40 other executives, officials, and businesses charged with committing some sort of crime.
It’s all a bit confusing, but fear not, we at The Mane Land are here to guide you through everything that’s going on.
The Broadcasting Bribes
As mentioned before, there are three men on trial: Jose Maria Marin, ex-president of the Brazilian Football Confederation; Manuel Burga, ex-president of the Peruvian Football Federation; and Juan Angel Napout, ex-president of CONMEBOL. The main witness for the prosecution is a man named Alejandro Burzaco, who used to run Torneos y Competencias, an Argentinian sports marketing company. Burzaco is among the sea of other people who have been charged and is likely testifying in hopes of a reduced sentence.
An Argentinian lawyer, Jorge Delhon, committed suicide last week after the court heard testimony that he took $500,000 a year in bribes from 2011-2014 when he worked with Argentina’s Futbol Para Todos, a now extinct government program that showed soccer matches on public television. The alleged bribes supposedly helped secure the broadcasting rights to international matches.
Part of Burzaco’s testimony has implicated three major broadcasters: Fox Sports, TV Globo, and Televisa. Among others, they have been accused of bribing officials to secure broadcasting rights to South American soccer matches. The Copa Libertadores, Copa America, and CONMEBOL World Cup qualifiers were specifically mentioned.
The Other Bribes
Another man implicated by Burzaco’s testimony is the late Julio Grondona, an ex-FIFA vice president, and long-serving president of the Argentine Football Association. Grondona is alleged to have accepted at least $1 million in bribes to secure his vote for Qatar as the host of the 2022 World Cup, as well as deals regarding other competitions, with the Copa America again specifically mentioned.
Another ex-marketing executive is also testifying during the trial. Santiago Pena used to work for Full Play Group, an Argentine company that secured marketing rights for the CONMEBOL World Cup qualifiers, the Copa Libertadores, and the Copa America. Pena testified that Full Play agreed to pay CONCACAF $35 million dollars to participate in the 2016 Copa America Centenario; as well as pay $10 million directly to Jeffrey Webb, who was the president of CONCACAF at the time.
Furthermore, Pena kept a ledger detailing a number of payments that Full Play Group made to various soccer executives, with car company names taking the place of the names of the executives themselves. Two such ledgers are for Rafael Esquivel, the old president of the Venezuelan Football Federation, and Luis Chiriboga, who held the same position but in the Ecuadorian Football Federation. Their respective code names in the ledger were “Benz” and “Toyota,” and had payments of $750,000 and $500,000 that were owed to them for “Q2022.”
While neither of the two men were on the FIFA committee that awarded the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, it has also not been determined if the aforementioned payments were redirected to individuals who were. Since this information emerged, Esquivel has been banned for life by FIFA.
In case this trial didn’t already have enough controversy and intrigue to satisfy you, allow me to sweeten the pot. Burga, one of the three men on trial, was accused last week of threatening Burzaco while he was on the witness stand by making a throat slashing motion with his finger. Burga’s lawyer claimed he has a skin condition and was merely scratching his throat, but the presiding judge still placed restrictions on his cell phone use, as well as tightened some of his other bail conditions. Earlier in the trial, Burzaco had stated that he had become the subject of death threats after he agreed to testify.
What Does it All Mean?
Well, that’s difficult to say. In a perfect world, I would say that it means this is the first domino that will lead to a toppling of all FIFA-related corruption. I’d say this will lead to widespread reform and changes in the way tournaments and broadcasting rights are awarded. I’d say that it will lead to transparency from above-board operations. I’d say that FIFA’s rotten underbelly will finally be rooted out and that soccer will be the better for it.
But sadly, this isn’t a perfect world. No, this is a world where FIFA literally refused to negotiate with the Brazilian government about a law banning the sale of alcohol at sporting stadiums. It’s a world where, when asked about that same law banning alcohol, Jérôme Valcke, the FIFA secretary general at the time, had the following to say:
"Alcoholic drinks are part of the Fifa World Cup, so we're going to have them. Excuse me if I sound a bit arrogant but that's something we won't negotiate." "The fact that we have the right to sell beer has to be a part of the law."
I’d like to be optimistic, and believe that all the things I mentioned above will actually come to pass. I really would. And you never know, that very well could be exactly what happens. But the crusty cynic inside me thinks it’s much more likely that FIFA will simply ban a couple of executives, put some new people in to provide “oversight,” and keep on doing what they’re doing. Because to quote our own TML leader, Michael Citro, at the end of the day, “FIFA gonna FIFA.”