Soccer overflowing with scoundrels and scandals

Joseph 'Sepp' Blatter had no opposition in FIFA election.
Joseph 'Sepp' Blatter had no opposition in FIFA election. (Associated Press)
Posted: June 03, 2011

After sifting through article after article from the British tabloids, reading firsthand accounts from ex-officials and even talking to a couple of people close to the situation, I have ascertained only one thing about those involved in the current FIFA/CONCACAF scandal:

This is a dirty bunch of SOBs; and I'm not talking Sons of Ben.

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised; after all, it is sports politics, and anything involving politics carries an undercurrent of corruption. Except that one never really expects to see it as rampant within soccer as the past few weeks have revealed.

To those who don't know what I am referring to, here's the breakdown:

Despite an investigation for his alleged knowledge of shady backdoor deals about the awarding of the 2022 World Cup, Joseph "Sepp" Blatter was overwhelmingly re-elected Wednesday to another 4-year term as president by delegates from FIFA, soccer world's governing body. Blatter, who has presided over the Swiss-based organization since 1998, won unopposed, despite urging from the English Football Association to delay the vote until a suitable opponent was found.

Request denied.

Blatter had faced opposition from Mohamed bin Hammam, former president of the Asian Football Confederation. Hammam withdrew from the race on Sunday, amid allegations of bribing Caribbean constituents upward of $1 million for votes in favor of him becoming FIFA's new president.

Blatter himself was cleared of bribery allegations shortly before the vote.

In our own backyard, CONCACAF, the governing body of soccer in North and Central America and the Caribbean is under scrutiny, as well, after president Jack Warner was accused of offering $40,000 each to several FIFA executive committee members in exchange for voting for bin Hammam. Warner once was fined for improperly profiteering in the sale of 2002 World Cup tickets and has a history of other shady deals.

Both bin Hammam and Warner were suspended Sunday by FIFA, pending the results of a full investigation, and both deny any wrongdoing.

CONCACAF general secretary and treasurer Chuck Blazer - a man who would only need a red suit to play Santa Claus at just about any mall in America - put Warner's antics on blast, looking to emerge as the white knight in the situation, and perhaps gain some upward mobility once the dust settled.

Maybe we should take Blazer with a grain of salt, though. Ex-CONCACAF official Mel Brennan just alleged in an expose on his blog that Blazer used a CONCACAF black American Express credit card (you know, the swanky, super-thick one with no limit that hip-hop artists brag about and movie stars max out) for a limousine, lavish dining, and lap dances and massages at a Manhattan strip club.

Meanwhile, Warner has been replaced by interim president Lisle Austin. Austin tried in vain to fire Blazer twice this week via email, but the CONCACAF committee said his interim status doesn't allow him to ax anyone.

Who needs daytime soaps? Just pick up a copy of any soccer publication and there is "Days of our Lives."

Someone close to the U.S. Soccer Federation with knowledge of the FIFA and CONCACAF matters spoke to the Daily News on condition of anonymity. He said shady dealings are nothing new among the fossils wearing Ferragamo in FIFA; it's only being brought to light after the English media took it on, fueled by claims from the English FA.

"This isn't anything new, these guys have been doing this for years," the source said. "Have you ever seen the FIFA executives at the World Cup or at a major FIFA event? They get treated like royalty. We're talking about old men, old money who could care less about soccer, but how soccer can continue to line their pockets. The players, who should be the focus because they are the real moneymakers, get very little, while these guys in the suits help themselves and have access to whatever they want. There's no transparency, they don't have to answer to anyone. So I'm not really shocked that this is coming out now."

Surprisingly, it's that type of recalcitrant pessimism that seems so prevalent among those who follow soccer.

Even more astounding is what some, such as Union forward Danny Mwanga, think about the scandal and FIFA.

"I believe a lot of people won't agree but I think FIFA is looking out for the sport," said Mwanga, 19, who admitted not keeping abreast of the ongoing scandals religiously. "It's not easy for people to agree, but I truly believe that, because I mean that's their business, they make money off that and I don't think they'd try to hurt the sport, even if sometimes it doesn't look that way."

One wonders whether it's that sort of naivete that soccer's governing officials rely on as they continue to do their dirty work.

ODDS AND ENDLINES

 The Union waived forward Chris Agorsor yesterday. Agorsor, 21, acquired via lottery on Valentine's Day, played in three Union reserve matches, scoring in his first against Red Bull New York . . . Kyle Nakazawa is hosting a dinner on July 21 at Fogo de Chao (1300 Chestnut) to benefit the Ascend Group of Philadelphia, an organization that works with people with Asperger's syndrome. For $75, you can dine on choice cuts and hang with select Union players. Diners will receive a raffle ticket giving them a chance to win Fogo gift cards, autographed Union swag, tickets to a Union game, and the grand prize: a pair of field-level seats to the July 23 exhibition against Real Madrid at Lincoln Financial Field. For more info, contact Damon at Team Dinner at 703-424-4984 . . . In MLS news, the league announced Red Bull New York coach Hans Backe will lead the MLS All-Stars against Manchester United at Red Bull Arena on July 27 (8 p.m., ESPN2, Galavision). Fans may vote for their 11 All-Star choices (aka, MLS First XI) via text, online or on Twitter. The selections also will be based on the coaches' and comissioner's picks, media balloting and player voting.

UPCOMING GAME

 Union (6-3-2, 20 points) at Colorado (4-3-6, 18 points)

When: Tomorrow, 9 o'clock

Where: Dick's Sporting Goods Park, Commerce City, Colo.

TV: Comcast Network

On the web: Streaming online at MLSSoccer.com

For kicks: Coming off an impressive 6-2 win in Toronto, the Union is on the road again to take on Colorado, the reigning MLS champion . . . The Rapids have been hampered by injuries to key offensive leaders, but stay afloat by virtue of a seven-game unbeaten streak (one win, six ties), the last a scoreless draw against Sporting Kansas City that continued a string of five consecutive draws . . . Colorado is the site of the Union's worst road loss in the club's short history (4-1, Sept 29, 2010) . . . Union manager Peter Nowak on the Rapids: "There is a reason they won the championship. They proved that you can do it without a designated player and a playmaker. They are not the greatest of players, but their will of winning, their will of competing and training and what [coach] Gary Smith and the management group have assembled over there makes this a tough group to deal with."

INJURY REPORT (as of Tuesday)

Out for the Union: Thorne Holder, GK (concussion); Amobi Okugo, MF (left ankle sprain)

Doubtful: Michael Farfan, MF (right groin strain)

Questionable: Gabriel Farfan, MF (left hamstring strain); Stefani Miglioranzi, MF (right groin strain); Zach Pfeffer, MF (appendectomy)

Out for Colorado: Macoumba Kandji, FW (left knee ACL tear); Marvell Wynne, DF ( right hamstring strain); Joseph Nane, MF (right shoulder strain)

Questionable: Jamie Smith, MF (left calf strain); Caleb Folan, FW (right groin strain)

Probable: Matt Pickens, GK (right groin strain); Quincy Amarikwa, FW (left ankle sprain)

INTERNATIONAL DUTY

For the Union: Carlos Ruiz, FW (Guatemala)

For Colorado: Omar Cummings, FW, Tyrone Marshall, MF (both Jamaica); Sanna Nyassi (Gambia)

QUOTABLE

"Soccer is a funny game. You can put in 100 percent [effort] and only have a 60, 70 percent chance of winning." - Union manager Peter Nowak during his Wednesday afternoon news conference.

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