Why I am I not surp….oh, oh, there goes the head again. I guess I am surprised after all.
Since I regard soccer as about as entertaining as watching paint dry, I took only scant notice of the massive scandal in 2015 involving the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), which oversees international soccer. More than 50 people and companies were charged in the case, and dozens have pleaded guilty. You can catch up here; I’ll wait.
All set? OK, then process this: six years after the massive criminal indictment exposed decades of corruption in global soccer, the U.S. government approved the payment of more than $200 million to….wait for it!—- to FIFA as well as its two member confederations also implicated in the scandal.
See, the theory is that the organization that was run by the individuals who stole all that money and engaged in bribery, money laundering and corruption, was really just another victim of it all. The repayment begins with an initial payment of $32.3 million in forfeited funds, the Justice Department announced, and prosecutors have approved a plan in which the soccer organizations could receive as much as $201 million.
In a statement, FIFA’s president, Gianni Infantino, thanked the American authorities for their “fast and effective approach in bringing these matters to a conclusion, and also for their trust in general,” adding that FIFA considers itself “well past” those bad old days.
This is like the Federal government paying millions to Enron because it was victimized by its management. Organizations are run by people, and when a lot of people in an organization engage in continued unethical conduct, it means that the organization itself nurtures that conduct. Such an organization isn’t the victim, it is the cause. This principle is so well established in the literature and practice of ethics compliance that the approach being taken now by the Justice Department is the ethics equivalent of NASA deciding the gravity is a myth. Corruption on this scale doesn’t occur because a few “bad apples” sneak into the barrel. It happens because the barrel itself is rotten. How can it be that prosecutors don’t comprehend this?
Perhaps it is because their own barrel is rotten too.
Oh, sure, there will be supposed government oversight of the money. It will be placed in a new foundation and directed toward developing soccer around the world.Spending from the new account will be subject to independent audit measures. The money will be also be held in the U.S. bank system instead of in Switzerland, where FIFA has its headquarters.
It doesn’t matter. The only way a corrupt organization can be trusted again is after all of is leadership is replaced, new and effective ethics training is mandates, and a completely new culture replaces the new one. That, obviously, takes time. At very least, the money being paid now should have been made conditional on various benchmarks as well as a clean probationary period. God understood the principle when he sent the Israelites who had worshiped the Golden Calf into the wilderness to wander for 40 years until the offending generation had faded out. Then they were allowed to enter the Promised Land. God also made sure the leaders of the group, even Moses, were punished as well. But the U.S. hasn’t required FIFA to clean out its management and board. Why is this concept so hard to grasp?
Well, it shouldn’t be hard. Unfortunately, it seems like almost anything involving ethics is too complicated for the U.S. government.