FIFA scandal offers a primer on globalization

Follow the flow of money through FIFA officials and co-conspirators in the infographic above.

Follow the playbill of global pieces enlisted and active in the saga of FIFA criminality in the article below.


In an astutely timed sweep, FBI officials in coordination with Swiss authorities arrested seven of nine FIFA officials facing charges and extradition on counts that include racketeering, money laundering, wire fraud, and bribery. Five executives in sport marketing and broadcast corporations also fell within this set of indictments. Speaking straight to the matter, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch sized up the scale of soccer’s global misdeeds:

They were expected to uphold the rules that keep soccer honest. Instead they corrupted the business of worldwide soccer to serve their interests and enrich themselves.

Social media erupted in a strange giddiness, as fans of the “beautiful game” initially reacted in disbelief – not that FIFA could have dirty hands, but that some authority finally showed will and power to regulate this powerhouse of a non-governmental agency tasked with overseeing and regulating the sport.

As the details of the investigations and indictments emerge, the contours of this case, tentatively dubbed FIFA-Gate, are already ripe with signposts exposing the nuts and bolts of globalization that have reconfigured present day opportunities for profit, criminality and regulation.

FIFA as Transnational Actor

Established at the turn of the 20th century in an era of grand optimism and faith that sport might be a source for international peace and a catalyst for encouraging and supporting progressive social ends, FIFA has evolved to the stature of a properly transnational actor.

FIFA maintains the capacity to shape values, agenda and relations on a global scale. Nations via their national soccer federations have sought and obtained international legitimacy through recognition as FIFA members. FIFA’s current international membership tallies 209. The United Nations has 193 members.

A poignant example of how this transnational authority plays out is Kosovo. In 2008, the Republic of Kosovo declared itself an independent state. Yet, Kosovo has achieved only partial international recognition.

While many UN member states do recognize Kosovo, Kosovo is not yet a UN member state. It remains in a period of inter-government transition.

Even with restrictions on national symbols and anthems at games, FIFA’s recognition of the Kosovo Football Federation in 2014 has been celebrated as a step toward national recognition of sovereignty as a state, not just a soccer association.

Beyond the often politically charged national symbolic opportunities that FIFA provides to nations represented by a soccer federation on a global level, states pander to FIFA – however legally – for the soft power and nation branding opportunities that are supposed to come with hosting honors of the World Cup and other premier level soccer events such as the CONCACAF tournaments currently under scrutiny in FIFA-Gate.


Financial Networks

The digital revolution has thoroughly interconnected local and distance markets and financial institutions. For soccer, massive money mobility has created all sorts of mini-crises for regulating the financial interactions among teams and leagues. FIFA-Gate is indicative of how global financial networks enable all sorts of criminal deviance to play out beyond the traditionally bounded jurisdiction of the nation state.

In the instance of FIFA-Gate, harmonized U.S. Department of Justice, FBI, and IRS investigations have worked to trace the sources, placement and layering trails of illegal money involved in the bribery and corruption of various FIFA and sport industry actors involved in these charges. A number of questions arise: Were U.S. and global banks carrying out their responsibilities of due diligence and anti-money laundering protocols? Were such financial institutions manipulated or perhaps complicit in the profits of these transactions? Is global financial institutional oversight with any real regulatory bite possible?

From the US, Cayman Islands, Switzerland, and Hong Kong, the coordination and connectivity of global financial institutions creates opportunities for corruption and money laundering, and difficulties for regulators to identify and tackle criminal activity.

Getty Images/Juan Finney
Getty Images/Juan Finney

Global Governance and the Nation State

The roster of regulatory powers that has emerged to oversee the overseers of global sport involves a host of predominantly national, not global, authorities. First and foremost have been the investigations and juridical powers of the U.S. Department of Justice. The initial arrests that interrupted the FIFA meeting in Zurich arose through coordinated U.S. and Swiss efforts.

State power continues to matter, even as it may struggle to keep up with the global mobility of criminal actors and their money. Though receiving less press, the global police network Interpol also appeared in the subsequent raids in Argentina that sought three additional suspects evading arrest in the FIFA-Gate charges.

Under pressure, the United Nations has released press statements of having to reconsider its relations with FIFA.

The lesson in all this is about who possesses the power to harness the global opportunities offered by changes in technologies, communication, and mobility of people and money.

Like match-fixing cases, law enforcement and investigation of the acts involved in the corruption of sport integrity are cumbersome and complicated because they cross territorial state boundaries. Differences in penal codes create situations where what is criminal in one state may not necessarily be so in another. Furthermore, police tools and procedures are limited by local laws.

FIFA-Gate is an exception, at least in the sense that global regulatory mechanisms and actions have alighted with at least some initial impact.

(AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)
(AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)

Global Strategic Hubs

As the headquarters to over 50 international sport organizations, including over 25 international federations and the International Olympic Committee, Switzerland has long been renowned for providing a number of strategic advantages. Beyond proximity to other primary sport governing bodies, FIFA’s choice of Switzerland is keen on its favorable tax climate and particularly strident privacy protections.

FIFA-Gate may signal an about-face in sport’s relative autonomy and lack of oversight.

Rather than placeless, there is, in fact, a geographic logic in the mapping of sport markets, governance and also the criminal deviance that operates through this sector.

To be sure, even a rudimentary geographic mapping of the global financial networks involved in FIFA-Gate suggests a system of strategic locations and circuits by which banking jurisdictions emerge.

Transnational Corporations

With revenues of roughly $5.7 billion during the last three years, FIFA’s stature has continued to swell thanks in large part to its transnational corporate sponsorships and broadcasts deals.

FIFA has culled a bounty from an elite club of transnational corporations willing to pay top dollar for largely exclusive rights to align their brands with FIFA, and in particular its premier event, the FIFA World Cup.

Indeed, Traffic Sports USA remains at the center of the charges as a middleman corporation that earned and sold FIFA marketing and broadcast rights with systemic and sizable kickbacks.

As FIFA-Gate has exposed the criminality involved in negotiating these deals, the scandal has also put on display both the social vulnerability and social responsibility of transnational corporations.

A serious corporate shuffle to closely monitor and respond to the PR risks of the FIFA partnerships has emerged. The high profile presence of such transnational corporations also makes them easy targets for fan-consumer backlash.

In the immediate aftermath of the early FIFA arrests, global activists have shown their graphic design talents in the anti-logo, ad-busting strategies that have taken aim at FIFA’s major sponsor. These subverted logos re-position the transnational corporations as mired in a number of rights abuses and scandals related to the FIFA and its events.

Whether warranted or not, Sepp Blatter’s resignation was hailed with much applauding of corporate partners thought to have applied just the right pressure.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Corporate sponsors seem to be keeping an ear to the ground, assessing fan outrage via social media.

The transnational corporations involved in the global football markets of FIFA are at both ends: sources of suspicion, as well as potential sources of moral leadership capable of effecting change in the sport’s governance. On the one hand, such transnational corporations can act as a mainspring – however direct or diffused – of corruption. On the other hand, consumer democracy strategies have targeted these corporate actors to pressure – that is, financial pressure – the shape of the way sport is organized and run.

Sport autonomy’s halo does not shine like it used to do.

FIFA-Gate tells a story about the authority of the nation-state and its connection to sport governing bodies.

There seems to be an end or at least an interruption of the utter incapacity or unwillingness to intervene in actions of the gift-takers who were expected to regulate and balance the global game of soccer’s social, financial, and political interests. Gift-taking is not legal! As an instance of globally operating and enabling crime, FIFA-Gate has arisen as an instance of white collar criminals with the gumption, know-how and savvy to manipulate their positions of power, global mobility and access to financial markets.


Rook Campbell is an Adjunct Professor of Communication at the University of Southern California. Follow her on Twitter @cabinet4

Mihai Peteu is a full stack developer who builds social mobile apps and data visualizations. Github:



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.