The FIFA Scandal Enters Its Conspiracy-Theory Phase

Was it U.S. vengefulness or a concert of vague “dark forces” that led to the indictment of 14 soccer officials?

Andrea De Silva / Reuters

Perhaps no human endeavor inspires the turning of more conspiratorial gears than professional sports. From Michael Jordan’s eyebrow-raising first retirement to Sonny Liston’s suspicious fall against Muhammed Ali to Curt Schilling’s bloody sock, the quest to identify corrupting forces is a sport unto itself.

Of course, when it comes to the world’s most popular game, the Internet is practically one enormous smoke-filled room. Last week’s arrest of several FIFA officials and executives, which preceded the surreally tidy reelection of FIFA head Sepp Blatter, appeared to be unimpeachable proof of true sports wickedness—corruption, graft, shadowy dealings, thrown bidding processes—the very salt and meat of evil connivances.

What could trump this kind of malfeasance? According to the anti-American conspiracy theorists, the indictments themselves are the real scandal. Russia was among the first to cry foul. “We know the pressure that was exerted on [Blatter] with the aim of banning the 2018 World Cup in Russia,"said Russian President Vladimir Putin, who blamed the United States for “persecuting” the FIFA chief.

On Sunday, Blatter’s daughter Corrine chimed in to call out the “dark forces” responsible for the plot against her father. "I wouldn't say from the Americans and the British, but certainly people working behind the scenes, yes absolutely,” she said.

Then there were the remarks of Jack Warner, a former FIFA executive, who released a video to protest the corruption charges against him. In it, he said American actions against FIFA were simple revenge for the U.S. loss of its bid to host the 2022 World Cup. “The U.S. applied to hold the World Cup in 2022 and they lost the bid to Qatar —a small country, an Arabic country, a Muslim country,” said Warner in the video.

More notably, Warner actually held up a printed out copy of an article from The Onion, which claimed (satirically) that a separate World Cup tournament was already underway in the United States, organized by FIFA to get the Americans off its back. The article concluded thus:

At press time, the U.S. national team was leading defending champions Germany in the World Cup’s opening match after being awarded 12 penalties in the game’s first three minutes.

Warner deleted and reposted an edited version of the video later without the article in it, but the desperate seizing upon of farce didn’t start and end with The Onion.

On Sunday, as The Moscow Times reported, the Russian state newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta responded to a satirical blog post by The New Yorker’s Andy Borowitz. In it, Borowitz had written that Senator John McCain had called for military action against FIFA: “‘These are people who only understand one thing: force. … We must make FIFA taste the vengeful might and fury of the United States military.’”

Rossiiskaya Gazeta’s Vladislav Vorobyov cited the fake quotes as proof of American willingness to bomb “any place on the planet.”