By Ivan G. Goldman
Ah, good old international soccer. You can always count on its scandals to make the ones in boxing look not so bad by comparison.
These days prizefighting has its May 2 “fight of the century” to live down – a lackluster affair in which Floyd Mayweather got one of his typical disenchanting victories over Manny Pacquiao. Pacquiao later announced he’d entered the ring with a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder, a problem he apparently didn’t reveal to the governing Nevada commission.
Almost all the tickets were scalped by the fighters’ teams. More on that later.
But in soccer, word came down today that FIFA, the deeply corrupt Big Kahuna of the sport, finally ran into legal problems. The U.S. Justice Department issued indictments naming 14 people on charges including racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering. And prosecutors hinted there will be more indictments later. Some arrests have already been made.
As for Mayweather-Pacquiao, there may be serious legal repercussions down the road. Lots of civil suits have already been filed against all the deep pockets connected to the snorifying event. It’s worth noting that the agency in charge of policing the fighters’ blood and urine was apparently notified of Pacquiao’s injury but didn’t relay the information to the commission.
In a somewhat related situation, there’s also a civil suit snaking its way through the courts filed by Golden Boy Promotions against boxing godfather Al Haymon that accuses him of violating the Muhammad Ali Act and of employing anti-competitive business practices. But no criminal indictments have been filed, and at any given time it’s rare when somebody in boxing isn’t suing somebody else.
Haymon manages Mayweather and had his fingers deep in this month’s superfight. The disappointing spectacle brought in more money by far than any prizefight in history. Most of the seats in the Las Vegas MGM Grand went to the two fighters’ camps, which scalped the tickets through intermediaries and by other means we’ll probably never know. It was sordid, allowing the sellers to drain even more money out of the event.
Yet so far what’s going on in soccer makes these potential boxing scandals look like small potatoes. In addition to FIFA officials, the indictment named sports-marketing executives from the U.S. and South America who are accused of paying more than $150 million in bribes and kickbacks in exchange for media deals associated with major soccer tournaments.
FIFA officials made the mistake of committing some of their alleged crimes on U.S. soil, where the Justice Department has steadfastly refused to indict self-proclaimed American torture impresarios or flesh-and-blood thieving bankers. That gave its prosecutors plenty of time and resources to go after lesser criminals like FIFA officials.
The new indictments shouldn’t have been terribly surprising. In a two-part series last year the New York Times provided amazing details on how gamblers have been rigging hundreds of games in big-time international soccer for years, mostly by bribing officials from countries where bribery is a part of everyday life.
Soccer isn’t the only international sport that’s oozing with corruption. Look at the decision to place the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. It’s a dilapidated subtropical backwater on the Black Sea where working toilets and electric sockets are luxuries. But Russia’s government crooks speak the same international language as Olympic crooks.
Boxing, also a sport that crosses national boundaries, often plays in the same sandbox. There’s no league to keep sleaze under control. Officials who decide who wins and loses are paid directly by the promoters, who have input on their selection.
Judges and referees get much bigger paychecks for big title fights and very much enjoy their all-expenses-paid assignments around the world. They always know the identity of the house fighter favored by a promoter they hope to work for again. You could call the system corruption light.
We have utterly upright boxing officials and others who at least on some occasions will lean the other way. Sometimes crazy refereeing and terrible scorecards are rooted in incompetence, but not always. And judges rarely explain their decisions to the public.
Although the tangled web of deceit and big money that encased Mayweather-Pacquiao didn’t manage to smother boxing, it didn’t help either. But comparing prizefighting to some other international sports – particularly soccer – does provide relief.
Ivan G. Goldman’s 5th novel The Debtor Class is a ‘gripping …triumphant read,’ says Publishers Weekly. A future cult classic with ‘howlingly funny dialogue,’ says Booklist. Available now from Permanent Press wherever fine books are sold. Goldman is a New York Times best-selling author.
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