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Why Must Americans Clean Up a Foreign Sport?

A Commentary by Froma Harrop

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

The competent Loretta Lynch can no doubt handle the job of cleansing professional soccer of widespread corruption. But why is that the U.S. attorney general's job? One must ask.

The World Cup does attract a large U.S. audience every four years, but largely because it's played when the basketball and hockey seasons are over. Soccer is the top sport on just about every continent except this one, north of the Rio Grande.

FIFA, soccer's global governing body, is based in Switzerland. Only one of the 14 defendants indicted by the U.S. Justice Department is American. The roundup of senior FIFA officials happened at a five-star hotel in Zurich.

No one has adequately explained why the accused are being dragged to a federal court in Brooklyn, New York. Prosecutors there issued a 161-page indictment detailing, as Lynch put it, "rampant, systemic and deep-rooted" corruption. The findings are the result of, as the media always say, "a sweeping FBI investigation."

And who is picking up the tab to restore decency to the national sport of other countries? The U.S. taxpayer.

In his 1925 novel, "Arrowsmith," Sinclair Lewis observed the rewards in America's urge to protect humankind. The papers could then "announce that America, which was always rescuing the world from something or other, had gone and done it again."

This has led to noble campaigns -- curing deadly illness everywhere and sending troops on solely humanitarian missions. It's mystifying, though, how reforming a sport most Americans ignore, corrupted by officials in other countries, got on the American to-do list.

It pains one to agree with Sepp Blatter, FIFA's Swiss president, but he's right when he says that "with all the respect to the judicial system of the U.S. with a new minister of justice, the Americans, if they have a financial crime that regards American citizens, then they must arrest these people there and not in Zurich when we have a congress."

Lynch argues that the sleaze involves Americans. For one thing, a former American member of FIFA's executive committee, Chuck Blazer, pleaded guilty to evading U.S. income taxes. Good; simply go after Blazer and make sure he pays up.

Another reason for U.S. involvement, according to the indictments, is that the alleged conspirators sent bribe money to accounts at U.S. banks. Well, money involving almost everything goes through U.S. banks. No one is accusing the banks of wrongdoing.

Finally -- and this reason is almost funny -- some of the alleged malefactors supposedly discussed bribe payments at meetings in Miami and in Queens, New York. Investigators surely know that illegal payments, kickbacks and bribes that actually affect Americans are plentiful and awaiting discovery in Miami and Queens.

Defending the honor of professional soccer should be in the interests of the teams, the advertisers, associated businesses and fans. The growing tawdriness and violence at the games are already costing the sport followers in even the most soccer-crazy countries.

Nonetheless, the U.S. Justice Department has piled on its shoulders the work of saving this foreign sport from the foreigners ruining it. "Enough is enough," Lynch boldly proclaims. But isn't it ultimately up to the people who patronize soccer to say when they've had enough?

Fans in other countries are now thanking Lynch for her efforts. Why wouldn't they? Americans are doing the work their governments should be doing but won't, especially if Americans are marching in to set things aright.

Let's start practicing indifference to the smaller offenses that barely touch the United States. The soccer scandal would have been a good start -- but too late for that.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com.

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