While the early morning raid and arrest of several high-ranking officials with the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) captivated the international news circuit Wednesday morning, many observers were left wondering: With so many corrupt bankers, politicians, and other one-percenters still free to walk the streets here in the United States, why has the U.S. Department of Justice set its sights on FIFA?
The international soccer organization has over time been accused of rampant human rights violations—including exploiting migrant and child labor, and spurring the mass displacement of poor and indigenous peoples—environmental degradation, corruption, bribery, and more or less running roughshod over the nations chosen to host the quadrennial FIFA World Cup tournament.
Most recently, the decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar has drawn significant scrutiny.
On Wednesday, the U.S. DOJ announced that it is indicting nine FIFA officials and five corporate executives on charges of racketeering, conspiracy, and corruption.
"The indictment alleges corruption that is rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted both abroad and here in the United States,” said Attorney General Loretta Lynch in a press statement.
The corruption, Lynch continued, "spans at least two generations of soccer officials who, as alleged, have abused their positions of trust to acquire millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks. And it has profoundly harmed a multitude of victims, from the youth leagues and developing countries that should benefit from the revenue generated by the commercial rights these organizations hold, to the fans at home and throughout the world whose support for the game makes those rights valuable.
"Today’s action makes clear that this Department of Justice intends to end any such corrupt practices, to root out misconduct, and to bring wrongdoers to justice—and we look forward to continuing to work with other countries in this effort."
Seven of those charged were arrested by Swiss authorities while attending the annual FIFA meeting in Zurich, Switzerland.
According to the New York Times, which has live updates on the scandal, "more than a dozen plainclothes Swiss law enforcement officials arrived unannounced at the Baur au Lac hotel, an elegant five-star property with views of the Alps and Lake Zurich. They went to the front desk to get room numbers and then proceeded upstairs. The arrests were carried out peacefully."
The remaining defendants now face extradition to the U.S..
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Reaction to the news, however, was mixed—particularly in a country where the "world's sport" ("soccer" in the U.S.; "futbol" or "football" everywhere else) is only the favorite in two percent of American households, according to a 2012 survey.
Pretty sure the DoJ has now charged more FIFA officials than bankers for serious crimes.
— teapot. (@asmallteapot) May 27, 2015
The beautiful irony is that #FIFA has been trying for decades to get the Yanks interested in "soccer". They got the FBI interested at least.
— Anshel Pfeffer (@AnshelPfeffer) May 27, 2015
I'm not at all saying FIFA isn't corrupt or doesn't deserve scrutiny, just that I find the DOJ's priorities funny.
— Rudolf E. Havenstein (@RudyHavenstein) May 27, 2015
The irony: The DoJ is more interested in arresting foreigners in a foreign country working for a foreign organization than US bankers. #FIFA
— Christian G. (@InEgo_) May 27, 2015
With FIFA, the DOJ continues a proud American tradition of swooping in to save an area of the world its citizens know or care little about
— Caitlin Kelly (@atotalmonet) May 27, 2015
— Daniel Wright (@DanSWright) May 27, 2015
And one observer addressed the recent threat that Israel will be suspended from FIFA for systematically violating the rights of players with the Palestine Football Association (PFA):
@mattapuzzo Interesting DOJ decided to act now — while FIFA is considering Israeli exclusion. Coincidence, probably.
— Moderate Tweeter (@ModerateTweeter) May 27, 2015