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Is this the beginning of the end for FIFA?


It's the only organisation that makes Kim Jong-Un's North Korea look like a model of democratic accountability - but FIFA's continued ride on the gravy train may, at long last, be under risk, following the sensational news of the arrest of a host of top officials in Switzerland this morning.

More than a dozen plainclothes officers entered the Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich and arrested "at least six" people, with "as many as 15 people worldwide" taken in as part of the operation. The five-star hotel is a favoured hangout of FIFA officials, who are in the country ahead of the organisation's Presidential election this Friday, where Sepp Blatter is expected to secure yet another landslide victory - which would be his fourth successive re-election, having been in charge since 1998.

The arrests have come on the order of the FBI, with the men arrested on suspicion of receiving bribes totalling at least $100m (£65m). Charges include money laundering, racketeering and wire fraud, seemingly relating to a host of illegal payments to FIFA officials and sub-organisations, which were handed over in return for media, marketing and sponsorship rights related to tournaments in Latin America. The US authorities have been able to act as the deals took place on American soil, and used American banks.

In another, just as significant, move, officers have raided FIFA's Zurich headquarters where they have seized electronic data and begun criminal proceedings “against persons unknown on suspicion of criminal mismanagement and of money laundering in connection with the allocation of the 2018 and 2022 football World Cups”. Twitter users have already begun to imagine the scenes taking place right now in the accounts department.

The move was unexpected, but has been timed to coincide with the election as a way of ensuring a clean swoop on all the suspected parties. Rumours suggest that former FIFA executive committee member Chuck Blazer is the man who has turned supergrass.

The 70-year-old lived a fabulous lifestyle on the back on becoming 'Mr Ten Percent' at Concacaf in the US from 1996 until leaving in 2013, whereby he took a cut of virtually every deal that went through its books; he seemingly worked the entire time without a formal contract. He himself was suspended by FIFA for 90 days in May 2013 after allegations that he'd illegally received over $20m from Concacaf - however, it seems that he turned informant to the FBI in 2011 after investigators discovered huge unpaid tax bills from his time at the organisation. Clearly, he has chosen to cooperate in return for some form of deal; in addition, he also has cancer of the colon, so he may feel he has nothing to lose by revealing all.

Chuck Blazer

"Don't worry, I'll try and write a new Game Of Thrones book soon"

Allegations of corruption in FIFA are almost too numerous to mention, with Blatter's never-ending reign being punctuated by constant accusations which he has consistently managed to brush off; most spectacularly when, under huge pressure over the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar he commissioned an independent report in 2012 into alleged corruption. It was led by the respected Michael J. Garcia but, upon receiving the 350-page document, FIFA only published a heavily redactive version (apparently for "legal reasons" - of course) which the author himself disowned, before resigning from the process. Naturally, Blatter declared that the end of the matter.

While British journalists have consistently led the charge against the organisation, others have hesitated to follow, seemingly in order not to risk their relationship with the governing body; it will surely be fairly damning if it takes the USA, a relatively small footballing nation, to come in and sort out the mess - mind you, they do have some form for tackling the world's problems.

Team America

Let's go get the FIFA bad guys! Yeah!

So, can FIFA survive this? A lot will depend on how things progress over the next few days - and also whether Blatter himself is implicated; at this stage there has been nothing said about him. But with the organisation consistently ignoring the increased outrage over the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups and the alleged appalling treatment of workers in Qatar, then if the wheels start to come off, there should be no shortage of people ready to dive in and stick the boot in further.

However, there could also be plenty of people worried about covering their own tracks - including a host of powerful footballing countries who have been willing to play along with FIFA all this time - who might try and resist any change. The organisation itself is certainly not going to go down without a fight - naturally, a morning press conference from their Director of Communications has just announced that the 2018 and 2022 World Cups will go ahead as planned (although intriguingly it also said that the Garcia Report would now be published - we won't hold our breath on that one). Hopefully, for the long-term good of the beautiful game everywhere, Team America can get the job done.

(Images: Rex/Getty/AllStar)



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