Biggest victims of Fifa scandal: Small club footballers, local leagues

  • Stephen Wade, AP, Rio de Janeiro
  • Updated: May 31, 2015 21:32 IST

The accused in the Fifa scandal are easy to spot: globe-trotting executives charged with diverting millions, meant to build the game, to their personal accounts. Those who feel victimized aren't as obvious: Youth players with hand-me-down equipment, semi-pro clubs that can't afford to travel and developmental leagues that can't pay referees.

Players and coaches can only dream about millions reportedly syphoned off by top soccer officials. "The reason that these people were able to make so much money corruptly goes to the love that people have for the sport," Kelly Currie, the acting US attorney in Brooklyn, said as 14 top world soccer officials were indicted. "And so it's taking that love and skimming off the marketing rights that allowed these people to enrich themselves and line their pockets."

At the Asian Games last year, India was eliminated without scoring a goal. With a billion plus population, India has never played in the World Cup.

Fifa president Sepp Blatter (R) and Julio Rocha president of the Nicaraguan Federation of Football (NFF) inaugurate a new football stadium in Managua in this file photo. (Reuters)

Narinder K Bhatia, the vice president of India's Delhi Soccer Association, said little money trickles down to the grassroots. "It's been very difficult to run the game," Bhatia said. "We are unable to provide nutrition. A cup of tea and a snack is not enough for players during matches."

Rahul Paswan practiced this week with the semi-pro Royal Rangers on the uneven turf at New Delhi's Ambedkar Stadium. "The biggest problem for us is buying equipment," said Paswan, an 18-year-old midfielder. "My family is unable to support me enough. I can't think of buying top-notch soccer boots. We also seldom get to play on a decent field."

Bhatia said development money from Fifa seldom filters down. "Most of the money is spent on high staff salaries and hotel bills," Bhatia said. "There should be no diversion of money, it should go toward developing the game."

In Brazil, a similar story is re-told by Fabio Braz, a 36-year-old defender on Brazil's lower-division America Football Club, which is deep in debt and having trouble paying for basics. He doesn't see money trickling down from powerful Brazilian Football Confederation, whose new $35 mn headquarters is a monument to wealth and power and whose former president was arrested on Wednesday.

"They take away our money," Braz told The Associated Press after Friday practice. "We are here daily working our butts off, earning our keep, defending our families, fighting for our survival."

Giulite Coutinho stadium, the home of America Football Club is about 45 kilometers (25 miles) north of the lavish CBF headquarters in Rio. One of Rio's best clubs four decades ago, the 11,000-seat stadium is surrounded by dilapidated cinderblock houses, abandoned factories and mountains of trash strewn at every corner.

"The majority of soccer clubs in Brazil have big problems," Braz said. "Players aren't paid, and then you see how the CBF benefits with so much money and luxury."
The 100-year-old club is $20 mn in debt, said Wagner Tardelli, head of soccer administration at the club, which now plays three levels below Brazil's top teams.

"What we see with the CBF is impunity," Tardelli said. "The truth is the CBF operates as a separate state, and no president in this country has been able to change that institution."

Tardelli gazed around at a field of young players. "If this money had been used for the kids and junior leagues - for example - wouldn't that have been a great help?"

In South Africa, revelations that bribes were paid to get the 2010 World Cup have angered millions. South Africa's northern neighbor- Zimbabwe is a stark example in Africa of how soccer still struggles in poorer countries. The Zimbabwe Football Association recently had to auction off an artificial-surface training field for $115,000 to pay down its debt.

Boys play football in the Balbala area of Djibouti on May 4, 2015. (AFP Photo/ Carl de Souza)

In West Africa, FIFA has funded the Guinea Football Federation's new headquarters, with gleaming offices and boardrooms, a reward for top officials who keep FIFA President Sepp Blatter in office. Critics say that money would have been better spent on fields and equipment.

"FIFA has become a danger for small nations like Guinea," Guinean political analyst Aliou Diallo said. "The heads there butter themselves up with the misery of our fragile economies."

The indictment claimed Brazilian soccer officials took bribes for decades, selling off TV rights and marketing agreements while millions were delivered to them personally. It said "youth leagues and development programs" were hit hardest by corruption. FIFA spent $1 bn on development projects in the last three years. But it's unclear how much of that money reached the players and clubs, or ended up in the bank accounts of FIFA officials.

Christopher Gaffney, who studies global sports events at the University of Zurich, said the victims stretch beyond field, pointing to businesses involved or hurt by the schemes. Employees making shoes in Asian sweatshops who went underpaid, while their companies paid millions in bribes; Nepalese workers who died building massive stadiums so that tiny Qatar can host the 2022 World Cup.

"The victims are hidden by the spectacle," Gaffney said in an email. "White-collar crime has its greatest impacts on those who don't own a suit."

(With contributions from C. Rajshekhar Rao in New Delhi, Renata Brito in Rio and Gerald Imray in Johannesburg.)


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