Empty Raid, Useless Act, Colltalers
On the surface, the raid of FIFA’s Zurich offices that dominated global headlines last week, is a relevant issue for billions around the world. In reality, it affects but a minority of privileged individuals, unlikely to spend a day in jail for their alleged crimes.
With much more power to change the world that we know is an entirely different matter, being discussed mainly within the U.S. by yet another group of privileged individuals: the expiration of the Patriot Act, which officially took place at 12am last night.
One is a rare crossover issue that allowed Americans to finally pick an angle they like about soccer, the world’s most popular sport; it felt good to see corruption being exposed at its higher echelons, and even those who couldn’t care less about sports may have had the pleasure to insert their own two cents into the watercooler discussions that followed the FBI-requested raid.
The other is an argument over how the task of protecting citizens from terrorist attacks became a either-or matter of giving shadowy intel organizations the power to spy on them, without being accountable for it in the court of law. The bulk collection of personal data, phone calls, and emails of everyone, is the Patriot Act’s main tenet, even if it’s based on hard-to-prove assumptions.
Taken together, the two issues only reveal just how easy a discussion about corruption in organized sports, even if it touches billions and involves obscene amounts of money, can be perceived as more important that our own privacy and freedom, and right to the presumption of innocence from the part of those assigned to protect us. It is not and we’ll see why.
First, a few words about FIFA, basically a regulatory organization that has grown to de facto own international soccer, and whose president, Joseph Blatter, has just been reelected for a record fifth term, amid ever increasing allegations of corruption.
Under his helm, or rather, in exchange for his quasi-perennial reign, soccer has been extended globally, which is good. Support to Blatter now comes mostly from Asian and African members, not Europeans. But it’s all been built almost always through illegal maneuvering, and favor-granting to corrupted local officials, and cash, lots of untraceable cash, and that’s very bad.
In theory, it’s a political strategy not unlike that of the Vatican, or even the Republican gerrymandering in the U.S. It allows Blatter to dole out money to impoverished soccer federations that need it the most, while weakening the power of influence of wealthier European countries and clubs. But there’s a dark side to such a paternalistic approach.
Resources and cash favors are funneled through a few local mavericks, and are rarely trickled down to help the poor communities from where more often than ever, international players are plucked from. Just like city incentives to sport stadiums, residents are often left out in the cold, and have no part, or benefits, from all that cash flow said to be injected into their neighborhoods.
Brazil, as the nation with the most World Cup titles, has been joined at the hip to FIFA since at least the mid-70s, when France-born Brazilian Jean Marie Havelange was its president. Havelange, known as João, personally groomed Blatter to succeed him.
Brazilian state federations, and club leaderships, all follow the same ingrained opacity FIFA and Blatter so enjoy. No one is elected by popular vote, there’s no public accounting of their finances, no one knows how much ‘futebol’ makes in Brazil, and as a result, many expect that the catastrophic performance of the national team at last year’s edition will likely to be repeated.
There may be hidden motivations for the U.S. Department of Justice to have finally brought charges to what, in the world of football, was well known as FIFA’s standard procedure. But it’s not exactly the one the old fox Blatter invoked right after being elected (he hasn’t been indicted or accused of any wrongdoing. Yet.): that is was all done as an act of revenge.
See, the U.S. (and the U.K.) were both candidates to host the World Cup, either in 2018 or 2022, but both lost their bids to Russia and Qatar. Blatter invoked that fact as the underlying reason why the DOJ took such a shining interest in FIFA.
It’s unlikely. And irrelevant, anyway, given the much more powerful arguments against Qatar, and the appalling state of its preparations. And it’s not even the fact that no one thought about its over 100-degree average temperatures in the summer.
The most serious allegations against Qatar are the more than 1,200 deaths of foreign workers, enduring slave-like conditions, and trapped in one of the wealthiest nations in the world, a fact that FIFA has blatantly ignored despite the evidence. At this point, it’s still unclear how the tournament can be held under the heat; as for the poor workers, not even the DOJ is interested.
That’s the kind of tragic by-product FIFA’s policies brought to international soccer, along with turning athlete trading into an open meat market, incentives to a wheeler and dealer culture that puts a higher price on speculation than on the health and future of players, all the while, avoiding new technologies that would ensure fair play and improve rulings on the pitch.
The arrest of a few well funded second-tier officials, then, will do hardly anything to the betterment of the sport. Those currently on the new U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s crosshairs have already scattered to their own countries, where they’re likely to be protected from further prosecution, and in the end, it’ll probably be a janitor the only one to do time for all this shebang.
In fact, it’s doubtful that the decision to go after FIFA had much to do with the need to clean up a sport that moves such large piles of resources and charges billions for its goods, while giving back so little to the masses and countries which adore it.
More likely is that, after months on a limbo awaiting congressional confirmation, Attorney Lynch may have seized such a high profile issue to insert herself in words affairs without much domestic heavy lifting. One wishes, though, oh, never mind.
As for the Patriot Act, not much consequence should be expected if it’s allowed to expire either. Despite dire warnings of a suddenly hawkish President Obama, it’s worth noting that more than a decade of undiscriminated surveillance has produced little useful intel, according to even former NSA personnel, and a stratospheric backlog of files still to be poured through by analysts.
In other words, most reports about the security flaws that allowed 9/11 to happen found that the breakdown was in the communication between the many agencies in charge of this country’s security, not the lack of warning or info gathering.
The Bush administration had extensive paperwork about al-Qaeda but chose not to dig into it analytically to understand what it all meant. The evidence shows that the hijackers’ previous activities in the U.S. were well known by those same agencies, which instead of being instructed to coordinate their efforts, were engaged in a still running turf war with each other.
What’s ironic, however, is that the main opposition in Congress against the extension of the Patriot Act is being led by not a Democrat, but a liberal Republican, Rand Paul, who’s relishing the headlines he wouldn’t otherwise have in no other issue he supports.
It’s startling omission and lack of leadership from the Democratic Party, when not even its presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton has been a factor in this fight that affects all Americans and billions around the world. And that’s our final point today.
The reason why the fight against government surveillance of its citizens, out of reach of courts and laws, is pertinent to everyone, even if it’s taking place in the U.S., is that many countries, not necessarily U.S. allies, gladly jumped in this bandwagon and brought the nightmare taken from the pages of George Orwell a little closer to the life of their own citizens.
If it hadn’t been for Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange’s Wikileaks, former CIA analyst John Kiriakou, and so many other whistleblowers, languishing in jail or all but banned from a normal life because of the very same DOJ’s misguided zeal, we’d never have known the massive extent of surveillance in our lives or how ineffective it’s proved to be.
Only public awareness of the ill-consequences of an intelligence community running amok can reverse, not only the nefarious Patriot Act, but also the whole rationale of spying on innocents, and torturing the accused, for that matter, as a valid strategy to protect us from harm. We’ll get no sympathetic ear from those invested in protecting their jobs above public interest.
There are other ways, and public opposition to secret files being kept on citizens is growing. We just wish the president would stand with us on this and other issues, but never mind. Change is coming and, as we prefer it, through the law. Enjoy June. WC