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The US is the only country that can save soccer

AP Photo/Mark Lennihan
The most important player in world football: US attorney general Loretta Lynch.
By Matt Phillips
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Americans just don’t really care that much. And the world should thank them for it.

Sure, every four years Americans will show up to a bar and watch people run around a field for 90 minutes during the World Cup. In major metro areas you might even see some Anglophiles sporting those quaint Harry Potter Quiddich scarves, which evidently correspond to teams somewhere across the Atlantic. But by and large Americans just don’t care about soccer, or football as it’s known most everywhere else. (The football references in the ranking below refer, of course, to American football.)

But to paraphrase George Orwell, America’s soccer ignorance is its strength today. It’s also the reason why it was a trio of government agencies from the US, of all places, that had the gumption to take on FIFA, a Zurich-based soccer federation that has long been associated with unseemliness.

Working in concert with the FBI and the IRS, the US Department of Justice indicted 14 people today (May 27)—including seven current FIFA officials and two former officials—on corruption charges, following a raid at dawn at a five-star hotel in Switzerland, where several of the officials were arrested.

While the American court system puts the burden of proof on the prosecution, the defendants will no doubt have a lot to answer for.

Questions over bidding for the right to host the league’s marquee event, the World Cup, resulted in an internal ethics inquiry just last year. The American lawyer who led that investigation resigned after differing with the official summary of the internal report. That wasn’t the first such investigation—there was one in 2006, for example, and another in 2002. (The New York Times has an excellent timeline of FIFA under the leadership of Sepp Blatter here.)

The point isn’t that the US is an exemplar. (Anyone who looked into the Olympic bidding process surrounding the Salt Lake City games could tell you that.) No, the point is that confronting serious problems with popular sports leagues is always difficult politically, given the leagues’ mass appeal. Just look at the resounding silence from American politicians toward the NFL, which has had to confront serious issues with both domestic violence and revelations about the health impact of concussions on players, and basically walked away unscathed.

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