As FIFA Scandal Unfolds, Blumenthal Calls for Greater Transparency, Accountability at U.S. Soccer

At Commerce Hearing, Senator Emphasizes Need For Additional Action By Public Officials, International Corporations To Ensure Better Governance Of International Soccer

(Washington, DC) – At a hearing of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee for Consumer Protection, Ranking Member Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) today called for greater transparency and accountability at U.S. Soccer as the FIFA scandal unfolds. Blumenthal sought answers on when and who at U.S. Soccer was aware of criminal wrongdoing plaguing international soccer – wrongdoing that has led to sweeping corruption charges from the U.S. Department of Justice.

“What has been revealed so far is a mafia-style crime syndicate in charge of this sport,” Blumenthal said in his opening statement at the hearing. “My only hesitation in using that term is that it is almost insulting to the mafia because the mafia would never have been so blatant, overt and arrogant in its corruption.”

“The facts show that there had to be either willful ignorance or blatant incompetence on the part of many of the members of this organization, and that’s true of US soccer as well. They either knew about it or they should have known about it, and I’m not sure which is worse.”

Blumenthal’s full opening statement can be watched here:

Full transcript:

Thank you Mr. Chairman and I want to thank you for having this hearing and for our witnesses being here. I also want to thank the Department of Justice for its vigorous and profoundly significant investigation, and I want to note that soccer is a growing and important sport in the United States and we take pride and enjoyment from the game most especially from the wonderful and convincing win last month by our world champion women’s team.  And I want to congratulate them and say very bluntly that the corruption uncovered in world soccer is a disservice to the game, it is a disrespect to them, it betrays the trust of countless men and women many of them young people just beginning in this sport who have a right to expect better from the leaders of this sport.

The fact of the matter is that what has been revealed so far is a mafia-style crime syndicate in charge of this sport. My only hesitation in using that term is that it is almost insulting to the mafia because the mafia would never have been so blatant, overt and arrogant in its corruption.

The simple fact is that this indictment, more than a hundred pages long, shows a crime organization, a racketeering conspiracy, and reveals how the organization was run. And the question now is who knew about this criminal wrongdoing, when did they know it and what did they know, why did they not act more quickly?

Those are the questions that the U.S. Soccer Federation has to answer today. These are classic questions involved in any racketeering conspiracy investigation and that’s why there is in fact an ongoing criminal investigation. We know some of the individuals who were responsible and should be held accountable. At least one of the principals has pleaded guilty already and others may be cooperating.

But the facts show that there had to be either willful ignorance or blatant incompetence on the part of many of the members of this organization, and that’s true of the U.S. Soccer Federation as well. They either knew about it or they should have known about it, and I’m not sure which is worse.

The recent success of our professional women’s soccer team should remind us and all Americans that FIFA, the international organization responsible for regulating and promoting soccer has engaged in this willful and prolonged, disgracefully corrupt conduct including wire fraud, money laundering and racketeering practices spanning more than two decades. Many of these crimes were committed in the United States, which is especially troubling.

I am saddened by the fact that corrupt practices for many years have deprived America’s national teams, our youth leagues, and millions of American soccer fans of the full value and integrity of the game they love. The actions of FIFA’s international and regional soccer officials have undermined the very sport this organization was established to serve.

This hearing is an opportunity for us not only to ask these questions about who knew what when and why they didn’t do anything about it, and also to lay the groundwork for reform. Just as sports scandals in the past have led to fundamental, far reaching overhauls in the way that those sports are organized and conducted.

I want to know what reforms the US Soccer Federation is planning to introduce to instill greater transparency and accountability in the governance of soccer in America. Not whether, but what and when, because clearly there is an urgent and immediate need for such reform. But I also believe that America’s national soccer federation has those serious questions to answer and I think it has to answer them not only at this hearing but for its fans around this country.

Cleary we can no longer indulge the idea of FIFA, a multi-billion dollar non-profit global enterprise, being run behind closed doors. That is a recipe for disaster, and moral catastrophe. Only reforms that install greater transparency and accountability can shed the necessary sunlight required to disinfect this corrupt organization.

One proposal is in fact to reorganize it as a corporation, or some part of it as a public corporation. I am proud that the United States has led the world in bringing these scandals to light, and holding individuals responsible. But that job is far from over.

There needs to be additional action and it should involve not only members of the public, and public officials, but also, let me emphasize, the private corporations that sponsor these events. Corporate organizations that sponsor international soccer like McDonalds, Nike, Coca-Cola and Visa play their part by ensuring that they stand as guardians of good governance. They must do so, rather than sit in silence as beneficiaries who benefit from opaque governance and at least one of those corporations is mentioned without naming it in the indictment.

As my colleague, Senator Moran has just mentioned, these actions have real consequences not only financially, but in potential discrimination against women in the game and potential physical harm to the workers who may have been involved and may be involved in other countries where major physical construction involve human trafficking and human rights abuse and worse.

The international community must collectively work to ensure that human rights are upheld wherever our athletes compete. The betrayal of trust is no less when human trafficking is involved in building the stadiums where our athletes compete. It’s a betrayal of trust on the part of those organizations that sponsor the game, and it implicates the entire sport. We should not tolerate the world’s most preeminent sporting competitions being staged at the expense of our most vulnerable citizens.

Today’s hearing is a first step. And I want to thank all of you for being here today. I look forward to your testimony and to restoring the trust of American fans, trust which has been betrayed but which they certainly deserve. Thank you Mr. Chairman.