Seldom do you hear people described as "dirty slimebags" at a Senate hearing.
But, such was the case Wednesday afternoon when investigative writer Andrew Jennings testified before the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, Insurance, and Data Security, with several others about the longstanding scandal that's enveloped senior leaders at FIFA, the international soccer organization.
"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 U.S. soccer, as well. They either knew about it or they should have known about it, and I'm not sure which is worse," ranking Democrat Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said in his opening. "The fact is 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 almost insulting to the mafia because the mafia would never have been so blatant, overt and arrogant in its corruption."
What You Missed: Senate Hearing on FIFA Scandal
Jennings, a Scottish investigative reporter, was a uniquely fascinating witness, who praised the sportsmanship and performance of the victorious U.S. women's team and other competitors at the recently concluded women's World Cup in Canada, while delivering barbs at various senior soccer officials, and saying the performance, "contrasts sadly, sadly with the massive, massive deficiencies of the U.S. Soccer Federation, frightened to upset President Blatter's corrupt FIFA while enjoying the elite lifestyle that he provides."
Sepp Blatter, the longtime FIFA president, did not appear.
"Mr. Blatter wields, as others have said, a lot of influence in the organization, and taking our position to not only vote openly but to nominate Prince Ali and work very hard for his election, we know that that may come with some difficulties down the road in terms of seeking support for hosting the 2026 World Cup, as part of Mr. Blatter's management style," U.S. Soccer CEO and Secretary General Dan Flynn testified.
Jennings charged the U.S. soccer organization with negligence, repeatedly turning toward the other end of the witness table where Flynn was seated.
"Blatter's FIFA ticks all the boxes defining an organized crime syndicate," Jennings said. "After seven years of probing these sleazebags and putting up with their legal threats and attacks on my computers, I was invited to meet FBI special agents in London. Their business cards said 'organized crime.' I wasn't alone anymore. The real people had arrived. In August 2011, I gave the financial and other documents ... that America's Chuck Blazer had hid from the fans and the public."
Blazer had been a longtime fixture in U.S. and international soccer.
"If America's soccer leaders had taken action when they should have done, Blazer and [former soccer executive Jack] Warner would have been in jail, Blatter seeking asylum in Zimbabwe and the 2022 World Cup being hosted by the USA, not some graveyards in the Gulf. It only took the FBI and the IRS a few weeks to check out the information that I gave them. They arrested Chuck Blazer, he immediately turned informant and FIFA has imploded."
Blumenthal also made a point of asking Jennings about the role of major U.S. corporations that are FIFA sponsors. Jennings accused them of "terrible attacks of blindness."
Beyond the hearing itself, the senators seemed particularly interested in the pace of overhauling international soccer, and at what point the United States might have to take an admittedly drastic step and step aside.
"As a fan, as well as a public official, as a parent, let me just suggest that sometimes inaction and silence signal complicity. And there'll be a point where in effect U.S. Soccer is complicit in the ongoing lack of reform or action," Blumenthal told Flynn. "You may have no direct control over it, but I respectfully suggest that that may be something you want to consider more seriously."
Chairman Jerry Moran, R-Kan., took interest in holding the hearing after seeing reports of human-rights issues with foreign workers building the 2022 World Cup infrastructure in Qatar, the point of testimony from Sunjeev Bery of Amnesty International.
"The 2022 FIFA World Cup has brought into global focus the shocking conditions that are routine for migrant workers in Qatar. Under Qatar's kafala employment sponsorship system, foreign migrant workers cannot change employers or leave Qatar without the permission of their current employer, even if an employer is not paying the employee, the employer can still block the employee from changing jobs or leaving the country," Bery said.
For Moran, the key is to prevent a repeat as international soccer looks toward future World Cups.
"We want absolutely the best for U.S. Soccer. I think the point I would make is we can't tolerate the status quo," Moran said in closing. "There are serious consequences from that status quo. They're real. There are some that are life threatening or perhaps life-taking, and we don't want another decision to be made for the next site for the Word Cup that is subject to the allegations or the reality that corruption continues to occur."