Soccer is much on my mind this week. On Friday, my oldtimers team plays its season opener against the nearby town of Russell, and on Saturday I hope to be able to watch Arsenal face off against Aston Villa in the FA Cup Final. Victories for my team and for the Arsenal will make it a good weekend.
Outside the harsh environment of oldtimers, the main live soccer event this summer in Ottawa is the Women’s World Cup which comes here in June. So far it looks as if the tournament should be a great success. In contrast, the men’s world cup, scheduled for Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022, is in trouble following the arrest in Switzerland of seven senior officials of the sport’s governing body, FIFA. The seven are facing extradition to the United States on charges of ‘accepting millions of dollars in bribes over 24 years to allocate tournaments and rig elections.’
The arrests have immediately sent conspiracy theorists into overdrive. The Moon of Alabama blog, for instance, links them to an upcoming vote in FIFA’s congress to suspend Israel’s membership because of accusations of discrimination against Palestinian players. The implication is that the United States is attempting to discredit FIFA prior to the vote and deflect attention away from the Israel issue.
Others, meanwhile, link the arrests to current political tensions between America and Russia, and view them as a first step towards stopping Russia from hosting the 2018 World Cup. Russian military and political commentator El-Murid goes even further and sees the objective as being eventual criminal indictments against high Russian officials. ‘The fact that the Americans initiated the affair’, he writes, ‘shows us that the highest echelons of world politics are involved in it. Putin must receive his own Lockerbie, and nobody hides the aim. He must be made a worldwide outlaw, in order to suggest to his entourage that they should surrender their boss in return for personal guarantees.’
I don’t buy it. As the Russian Sports Minister has noted, the arrests are not actually linked to the World Cups in Russia and Qatar. Rather, the charges laid against the FIFA officials stretch back a quarter of a century and also include allegations concerning the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and the 2016 Copa America in the United States. Swiss authorities say that a separate investigation is underway to look at claims that Russia and Qatar won the rights to hold the cup finals in their countries by bribing FIFA officials, but that is a different issue. The vast sums of money involved in professional soccer have sadly corrupted the game at the highest level. That reality, far more than geopolitics, probably lies behind today’s arrests.