FIFA Faces Bribery Accusations

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Back in December, international soccer's governing body, FIFA, chose Russia and Qatar to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments. And along with FIFA's decisions came allegations of bribery and other misconduct. This week, the accusations against FIFA rose to a new level. Sportswriter Stefan Fatsis talks to Robert Siegel about the latest news.


Russia, 2018. Qatar, 2022. Back in December, international soccer's governing body, FIFA, chose those countries to host future World Cup tournaments. And along with FIFA's decisions came allegations of bribery and other misconduct. And this week, the accusations against FIFA rose to a new level.

And here to talk soccer with us is sportswriter Stefan Fatsis.

Hi, Stefan.


SIEGEL: Tell us what happened this week.

FATSIS: Well, the former head of England's failed bid for the 2018 World Cup, he told a parliamentary inquiry that four FIFA members have requested money or other favors in exchange for their votes. He said one guy asked for $4 million that would be funneled through an education center in his country, and another asked for TV rights to a match against England. A third was open-ended. He said, come and tell me what you've got for me. And the fourth guy just asked for a nice hood. Speechless, huh? Nice hood.

SIEGEL: It's quite remarkable.

Mr. FATSIS: And then there were allegations also that Qatar paid $1.5 million to two other FIFA members in exchange for their votes, and you wind up with a full third of the 24 members of FIFA's executive committee, which votes on awarding the World Cups, accused of wrongdoing.

SIEGEL: So what is FIFA doing about this?

Mr. FATSIS: Well, so far, we've got denials and professions of shock and promises to investigate, but we've heard that before. Since Sepp Blatter was first elected president of FIFA in 1998 - amid bribery allegations, by the way - there had been a stream of, at best, ethically challenged behaviors from FIFA executives.

Blatter and FIFA, though, control so much money that there's fear among reform-minded countries of taking a stand against him. So at age 75, Blatter is running for a fourth four-year term. The vote is June 1st. His only challenger is a man named Mohamed Bin Hammam. He's - he helped Qatar deliver his country the World Cup. And Bin Hammam has said that Blatter has sullied FIFA's reputation beyond repair.

Blatter responded in a newspaper column today that if Bin Hammam wins, FIFA could disappear into a black hole. And I think there are plenty of soccer officials and fans who actually wouldn't mind seeing that happen.

SIEGEL: And now, FIFA's Women's World Cup will be held in Germany starting in late June. The last time we talked about this, the U.S. was on the verge of not even qualifying for that event for the first time.

Mr. FATSIS: Yeah, but they did qualify. They beat Italy after failing to win an automatic bid from our geographic region here. Now, the U.S. is the top seed of the 16 teams in the tournament. This week, the team's coach, Pia Sundhage, named the 21 players who are going to be on the roster. People who follow the sport will recognize some names: Abby Wambach, she'll be in her Third World Cup; Amy Rodriguez, Hope Solo. But the challenge that I think women's soccer faces is its own legacy, the Mia Hamm glory teams that attracted so much attention in the 1990s and early 2000s. The world, though, has caught up to the U.S. competitively.

SIEGEL: Well, sticking with women's soccer, another challenge has been trying to create a women's professional league in this country, and that's not going so well.

Mr. FATSIS: No, it's not. One league failed right before the 2003 Women's World Cup. Then, there's been a new league that started in 2009 called Women's Professional Soccer. It is struggling. Four teams have folded. It's down to six clubs overall. Attendance has been pretty poor this year.

One of the better run clubs here in Washington, sold to the guy who owns the Internet phone service company magicJack, and he moved it to Florida. The team has had no website. It hasn't put up signboards on the field. It's been punished by the league for not meeting standards.

So if the league fails, you can say there was no market for it, but I think it would be a shame for women athletes and for young girls who could watch these athletes. The solution, I think, might be a relationship with the men's league, Major League soccer, similar to what the NBA...


Mr. FATSIS: ...has with the WNBA.

SIEGEL: OK. Stefan, have a good weekend.

Mr. FATSIS: Thanks, Robert. You too.

SIEGEL: Sportswriter Stefan Fatsis, who speaks with us most Fridays about sports and the business of sports.

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