The foghorn public language and fine print of the Fifa saga are quite simply extraordinary.
Both make the international football federation appear like the Mafia.
Language helped create the effect even before most people understood what exactly is alleged to be wrong in the state of world football. Consider the words used by US attorney general Loretta Lynch on Wednesday. She accused nine senior current or former Fifa officials of “hijacking” international football to run “a World Cup of fraud” to line their pockets by $150m. She said the Fifa officials had allegedly run a “rampant, systemic and deep-rooted” scheme to “acquire millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks”. And she said that “they corrupted the business of worldwide soccer to serve their interests and enrich themselves.”
That’s strong stuff. Then there’s the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act of 1970 under which the US is bringing the prosecutions. RICO is applicable in the case of a criminal enterprise. It was designed to prosecute crime syndicates. The use of this law means that the US Department of Justice is alleging that Fifa has become a criminal enterprise because it has committed criminal acts, bribery, fraud and other methods of systematic corruption. In effect, the US government is saying that Fifa is a criminal enterprise.
The FBI website defines a criminal enterprise as a group of individuals with an identified hierarchy, or comparable structure, engaged in significant criminal activity. A criminal is interchangeable, according to the FBI with organized crime. The latter is defined “as any group having some manner of a formalized structure and whose primary objective is to obtain money through illegal activities. Such groups maintain their position through the use of actual or threatened violence, corrupt public officials, graft, or extortion, and generally have a significant impact on the people in their locales, region, or the country as a whole.”
This is clearly an instance of the fine print of the law actually being stronger than foghorn public language.