Americanized football

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

Attorney General Loretta Lynch speaks at a packed news conference at the U.S. Attorneys Office of the Eastern District of New York following the early morning arrest of world soccer figures, including officials of FIFA, for racketeering, bribery, money laundering and fraud on May 27, 2015 in New York City. The morning arrests took place at a hotel where FIFA members were attending a meeting for the world governing body of soccer (football) in Switzerland. The Justice Department unsealed a 47 count indictment early Wednesday charging 14 world soccer figures. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Soccer has finally made it to the front page of American newspapers! Americans everywhere can finally enjoy the game now that our law enforcement officials have helpfully translated the sport into a true U.S. pastime: prosecuting gangsters.

Lots of questions immediately arise from this morning's indictments.

Why is the United States bringing these charges? Perhaps a secret competition was held amongst international prosecutors, and we won the bidding over Qatar and Russia? No, that would never happen. Countries like the United Kingdom, Germany, and Spain might be far more likely candidates to police corruption in the game they love so much. But if they struck at King Blatter and missed, they could suffer serious reprisals from an organization that has amply proved its unprincipled style of governance. The United States may be the only country in the world both powerful enough and indifferent to soccer enough to hunt down FIFA.

But why did U.S. prosecutors decide to bring this case? Perhaps FIFA's rapacious, Jabba-the-Huttian gluttony has at last offended the sensibilities of every last person on the planet. Or perhaps the attorney general tossed a coin, and FIFA beat out the IOC. Corruption in soccer wouldn't seem to be an obvious target for Loretta Lynch, just one month into her new job as the nation's highest law enforcement official. But the fact that soccer is not an obvious issue on which to grandstand in this country—and the fact that the charges have been brought by a team of major institutions (the Department of Justice, the US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, the IRS) rather than a local prosecutor—suggests that political hay and headlines are not driving this case. A dispassionate prosecution by the full might of the U.S. government would be an awful prospect for any defendant, no matter how slick and canny, to face.

Why didn't the indictment name Sepp Blatter? A prosecution against FIFA without Blatter is like a World Cup final without a red card for headbutting. The man is a shameless, grotesque caricature at the heart of the enterprise, who surely gobbled up his share of envelopes stuffed with cash if anyone did. But the 14 defendants named Wednesday appear to have more direct connections to U.S. soil, with roles in our local federation, CONCACAF, and U.S. companies involved in the alleged graft. Perhaps the prosecutors are content to work their way up to Blatter with the fruits of these prosecutions. Let's hope so.

Finally, one tidbit from Wednesday's indictment. The information sheet at the end of the document asks for the "projected length of the trial," and the AUSA has ticked "more than 6 weeks." Ready your tents, reporters!