World's policeman wins rare applause for FIFA crackdown

Thu May 28, 2015 1:20pm EDT
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By Noah Barkin

BERLIN (Reuters) - The United States has infuriated some of its closest allies in recent years by fining their banks and spying on their citizens. But its latest extra-territorial salvo, a crackdown on graft at soccer's global governing body, is winning wide applause abroad.

Following news on Wednesday that the U.S. Justice Department, supported by FBI investigators, was charging nine current and former FIFA officials with illegal payments, kickbacks and bribes, the Twittersphere was flooded with rare cheers of approval for the "world's policeman".

Fans of the "beautiful game" - the world's most popular sport but outside the sporting mainstream in the United States - also questioned why countries with a richer soccer tradition had turned a blind eye to suspicions of corruption for so long.

Some dissenting voices came from Russia, which is due to host the World Cup in 2018, as well as China.

But even in FIFA's home country of Switzerland, which has endured a U.S. assault on its cherished tradition of banking secrecy, there were strong signs of support for the crackdown and calls for the body's long-time president Sepp Blatter, a Swiss himself, to resign.

"It's embarrassing for the rest of the world," said Martin Daepp in a reader comment on the website of Swiss daily Neue Zuercher Zeitung. "The energy the USA is devoting to a sport that has been so unimportant there is stunning. Still, football fans will thank the USA for this."

Former stars of the game, from Brazil's Romario and Argentina's Diego Maradona to Portugal's Luis Figo - who has accused Blatter of running FIFA like a dictator - applauded the move, which started with a dawn raid on a FIFA congress in Zurich on Wednesday and the arrest by Swiss police of seven senior officials who now face extradition to the United States.

"Unfortunately it wasn't our police who caught them, but somebody had to catch them. Thieves have to go to jail," said Romario, who was on the team that won the World Cup in 1994 and is now a senator in Brazil.   Continued...

FBI agents bring out boxes after an operation inside the CONCACAF (Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football) offices in Miami Beach, Florida May 27, 2015. REUTERS/Javier Galeano