Soccer’s international governing body continues to take hits from U.S. lawmakers, both for alleged widespread corruption and pay inequality.
In May, 14 people connected to the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) were indicted on charges of racketeering, wire fraud, and money laundering after an investigation led by the FBI and the IRS. Though he was not directly implicated, FIFA’s longtime president Sepp Blatter voluntarily stepped down from his post shortly after the allegations were made public.
Last week, at a hearing of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee for Consumer Protection, ranking member Sen. Richard Blumenthal likened FIFA to an organized crime syndicate.
“What has been revealed so far is a mafia-style crime syndicate in charge of this sport,” Blumenthal said. “My only hesitation in using that term is that it is almost insulting to the mafia because the mafia would never have been so blatant, overt, and arrogant in its corruption.
“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,” he said.
In addition to the alleged corruption, Blumenthal also raised concerns over human trafficking and slavery. Last year, a U.S. State Department report specifically cited the World Cup as a hotspot for both forced labor as nations prepare for the events and sex trafficking during the events themselves.
“Governments should ensure labor laws meet international standards, regulate labor recruitment agencies, and frequently inspect construction sites for violations of labor laws,” the report says.
“The international community must collectively work to ensure that human rights are upheld wherever our athletes compete,” Blumenthal said. “The betrayal of trust is no less when human trafficking is involved in building the stadiums where our athletes compete. It’s a betrayal of trust on the part of those organizations that sponsor the game, and it implicates the entire sport. We should not tolerate the world’s most pre-eminent sporting competitions being staged at the expense of our most vulnerable citizens.”
The same day Blumenthal spoke to the Senate Commerce Subcommittee for Consumer Protection, he and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, co-sponsored companion resolutions — S.Res.222 and H.Res.364 — that call for pay equity between men’s and women’s soccer teams.
When the United States won the women’s World Cup this summer, beating Japan to take home the title, the team was awarded $2 million, as compared to when Germany beat Argentina in 2014, the men’s team made $35 million.
“It baffles me to think the United States women’s soccer team or any women’s World Cup champion would be compensated significantly less than their male counterparts. Players should be rewarded for their performance rather than their gender,” said Rep. Linda Sánchez, D-Calif., who sponsored the House version of the bill. “It’s time for FIFA to correct this disparity between male and female athletes. We should send the message to girls and young women around the world that we value their hard work the same as men.”
According to a release from Sánchez, the total payout for all teams in the 2015 Women’s World Cup is $15 million, 40 times less than the total for the 2014 men’s World Cup, $576 million.
When speaking before the Consumer Protection subcommittee, Blumenthal called for “far-reaching overhauls” in FIFA’s make-up and management.
“Clearly we can no longer indulge the idea of FIFA, a multi-billion dollar non-profit global enterprise, being run behind closed doors,” he said. “That is a recipe for disaster, and moral catastrophe. Only reforms that install greater transparency and accountability can shed the necessary sunlight required to disinfect this corrupt organization.”
Jordan Fenster can be reached by or @JordanFenster on Twitter.