Upon hearing about the arrest of several top FIFA officials this morning, I couldn’t help but think of this profile of Sepp Blatter in the April 30 edition of Bloomberg Businessweek, which details some shadiness of the governing body:
The headquarters of FIFA takes up about 11 acres on a wooded hill above Zurich. Two soccer fields abut a main building that’s wrapped in aluminum webbing, allowing light to stream into a welcoming atrium. Blatter oversaw the construction of the compound, which was finished in 2007 and cost about 240 million Swiss francs ($255 million), and has pointed to its transparent design as an expression of FIFA’s values. Maybe, but FIFA’s legal department demands that some visitors sign nondisclosure agreements for otherwise routine meetings, and five of the building’s eight levels are underground. On a recent visit, cell phones were rendered useless in the depths, sheathed as they are in black, Brazilian granite. In a Strangelovian lair on the third subterranean level, Blatter holds executive committee meetings in a conference room with a floor of lapis lazuli. The room is lit by a round, crystal chandelier meant to evoke a soccer stadium.
FIFA’s money doesn’t always result in much more than new office space for local soccer officials. The organization has sent more than $2 million to the Caymans since 2002 to build a headquarters and world-class soccer fields as a base for its national teams; the men’s team is ranked 191st in the world. Blatter flew in for the groundbreaking ceremony in 2009. “Cayman has not yet qualified for the World Cup,” he told the assembled dignitaries, according to a local press account. “But I’m sure that one day you will make it. We can help.” The headquarters has been built, along with one field, but the land was too salty to grow grass, so the Caymans association is replacing it with artificial turf.
Although the men’s team from the Caymans usually loses—in March, its first international match in more than three years resulted in a goalless tie with Belize (rank: 159)—the Cayman Islands Football Association is one of the biggest powers at FIFA. Webb’s regional confederation nominated the Caymans’ treasurer, Canover Watson, to FIFA’s audit and compliance committee, the panel that’s supposed to be international soccer’s bulwark against corruption. In November, Caymanian authorities charged Watson with money laundering and fraud related to his role as chairman of the Cayman Islands Health Services Authority; he allegedly steered contracts to a business in which he had a financial interest. FIFA has temporarily suspended Watson from the audit committee. Watson declined to comment but has denied the charges.
It’s worth a read. I guess I can’t be surprised Blatter wasn’t arrested. He seems super well-protected.