Jail Time for LatAm Officials Won’t Kick FIFA Corruption Problem

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Authorities in the United States have sentenced two high-level soccer officials to jail time in relation to a widespread corruption scandal involving the world’s biggest soccer association FIFA, but rooting out rampant corruption within the institution is likely still far off.

A US federal court on August 29 sentenced Juan Ángel Napout, the former president of Paraguay’s soccer federation who was also formerly the head of South America’s main soccer governing body, known as CONMEBOL, to nine years in jail and ordered him to forfeit $3.37 million and pay a $1 million fine, the BBC reported.

Napout’s sentence comes shortly after the sentencing earlier this month of José Maria Marin, the former president of Brazil’s soccer federation, to four years in jail. Marin became the first to be sentenced in the corruption investigation. He was also ordered to forfeit $3.34 million and pay a $1.2 million fine, according to The Guardian.

“You have to send a message that this behavior results in severe consequences. You cannot steal millions in bribes from these organizations without punishment,” federal Judge Pamela Chen is reported to have said during Napout’s sentencing.

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Marin and Napout were both convicted of participating in a multimillion-dollar bribery and kickback scheme within the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA), the primary body governing soccer at the global level.

The trial against these and other Latin American officials first kicked off in November 2017. Authorities have charged 42 individuals in total for their alleged involvement in different bribery and influence peddling schemes, among other things, that took place across the region over the course of two decades.

Two Latin American media giants — Mexico’s Televisa and Brazil’s Globo — have also been implicated in the investigation for allegedly paying multimillion-dollar bribes to FIFA executives in order to secure media rights for the 2026 and 2030 World Cup tournaments.

InSight Crime Analysis

The recent sentencing of two former high-level soccer executives to jail time in relation to the far-reaching FIFA corruption investigation is indeed a positive development in the case, but it likely won’t rid the institution of the rampant corruption that has come to define it.

Organized crime has for years had a close relationship with soccer in Latin America, from match fixing and criminalized soccer fan clubs to criminal groups using the sport as a means to launder money and build social capital.

The FIFA corruption investigation also unveiled the many ways in which elite officials within soccer’s main governing body create various schemes to line their own pockets.

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While jail time is certainly a necessary development, journalist Ken Bensinger, the author of “Red Card: How the U.S. Blew the Whistle on the World’s Biggest Sports Scandal,” recently told InSight Crime that FIFA has not gone far enough to address the institution’s corruption problem.

“I think it’s folly to expect that by arresting a bunch of people you solve the cultural problems of the institutions,” he said. “This is sort of the splash of cold water on the face, but what has to come next is the hard work of really creating a new, less corrupt culture.”

Also, FIFA is a non-profit association registered in Switzerland, where there are intentionally weak laws governing non-profits. So while action by US authorities against some of the organization’s corrupt actors is important, action from Swiss and international authorities is “essential to reining in the ‘cesspit of corruption’ at the world’s most popular sport,” Bruce W. Bean from Michigan State University argued in a recent paper.

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