The United States Department of Justice announced a 47-count indictment today, charging 14 high-level figures from the world of soccer -- including multiple officials of FIFA, the sport’s global governing body -- with racketeering, bribery, money laundering and fraud.
The indictment includes allegations of kickbacks to FIFA officials by companies involved in the marketing arm of the sport, bribes and kickbacks surrounding the 2011 FIFA presidential election and the selection of a host country for the 2010 World Cup tournament.
United States Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced those indictments today, saying the corruption is “rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted both abroad and here in the United States. It spans at least two generations of soccer officials who… have abused their positions of trust to acquire millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks.”
Swiss officials have also begun criminal investigations based on similar allegations of mismanagement and money laundering associated with the 2018 World Cup in Russia and the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
What does this have to do with NASCAR?
Thankfully, not a lot.
But in an era where some observers of our sport see bias in the running of the sport and inconsistency in the assessment of penalties, the unfolding FIFA scandal provides a valuable example of how quickly such chicanery can go horribly, irreversibly wrong.
Over the years, a small number of conspiracy theorists have accused NASCAR of attempting to influence the outcome of both individual races and season championships. Stories have long circulated of teams receiving “the call” from NASCAR’s Daytona Beach headquarters, giving them carte blanche to work outside the rules the following week, without fear of detection or reprisal. No competitor – former or present -- has ever stepped forward to say they received such a call, but the rumors survive, nonetheless.
Today, we learned why NASCAR cannot afford to play fast and loose with the rules.
With today’s indictments, the sport of soccer begins what will almost certainly be a lengthy battle for its collective life. If FIFA is willing to sell its marketing rights under the table and award its World Cup Tournaments to the highest illicit bidder, it’s a short stretch to manipulating actual on-field results. If the people at the top are willing to line their pockets by selling the very integrity of the sport, what's to stop them from selling a bogus offside call to a team owner with more money than brains?
Watch what happens to the sport of soccer in the coming weeks and months. Like Major League Baseball in the steroid era, legitimate questions will be raised regarding the integrity of the sport. The answers to those questions will almost certainly be ugly, and the sport may never be the same.
As you watch that ugliness unfold, ask yourself why the people who run our sport would ever risk putting themselves on the firing line in that manner. Consider what there is to lose, and what could possibly be gained.
NASCAR is a multi-billion dollar industry, and the people who call the shots from those Daytona Beach offices have enriched themselves greatly – and legally -- while manning the helm. All it would take is a single allegation of FIFA-esque wrongdoing, manipulation or corruption to bring this sport – not to its knees – but to an end. One thrown race, one instance of “looking the other way” during a post-race technical inspection and you can say goodbye to NASCAR as we know it.
Around the bowl and down the hole. Just like that.
NASCAR is a legitimate sport with legitimate weekly contests, decided fairly on the field of battle. Mess with that equation just once and watch the sport spiral downward into the same maelstrom of controversy that will shortly envelope international soccer.
Within the next 12-24 months, men and women at the uppermost levels of "the beautiful game" will face the unsettling prospect of hard jail time, while their sport is torn asunder by a controversy of their own making. If you think Major League Baseball suffered from fan backlash during the steroid era, just wait and see the reaction of the worldwide sporting community to this FIFA scandal.
There are dark days ahead for the sport of soccer, and it will not be pleasant to watch unfold.
If somehow, after everything that came down today, you somehow still think that NASCAR would finagle the outcome of next week’s race, enforce the rules a little differently from team to team, or stack the deck in an attempt to allow the “right” driver to win the 2015 championship, think again.
Think about the men and women who run this sport, and how much they stand to lose by dealing cards off the bottom of the deck. Think about how quickly NASCAR could turn into FIFA, and how quickly a scandal of this variety could bring the sport we love to a horrible, crashing end.
Doesn’t make much sense, does it?