Fifa scandal: 'God Bless America,' football fans say

Anthony Zurcher
North America reporter
@awzurcheron Twitter

Published
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image captionMany football fans cheered the US decision to tackle alleged corruption in Fifa

A bold, surprise move by the US on the world stage hasn't always been a recipe for global applause.

By indicting 14 top Fifa officials on corruption charges on Wednesday, however, the US government currently finds itself on the right side of much of the international media.

"The parasites in Fifa who skimmed off millions - and the influence peddlers who tempted them - should be shown no mercy," write the editors of the Times of South Africa. "The Americans will have done the world a huge favour if their actions finally force Fifa to clean up its act."

The headline of a piece by Emmet Malone in the Irish Times proclaims: "US does football a service as Fifa's house of cards begins to collapse".

Malone goes on to praise the "dogged" efforts of US tax authorities.

Fifa is a "global behemoth", writes Politico Europe's Tunku Varadarajan, but the US is an even more powerful adversary. "FIFA has met its match … in the United States of America."

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image captionLoretta Lynch's investigation could boost the US's image abroad
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image captionFifa has met its match, says Politico Europe's Tunku Varadarajan

Football commentator Simon Hill of Fox Sports Australia is even more direct.

"God Bless America," he writes "It's perhaps the ultimate irony that one of the last countries on earth to fully embrace football is the one that has had the gumption to take a stand, and try and rid the game of what the US Department of Justice calls 'systemic' corruption."

It's a recurring theme - that the efforts to reform football's governing body have found an unlikely hero in a nation that is usually more interested in the on- and off-the-field machinations of a different, more heavily padded kind of football.

According to Tufts University professor Daniel W Drezner, the Fifa story is providing a break in the clouds during what can otherwise be considered a dismal time for the US and its position on the world stage.

"We live in an age when foreign affairs pundits like to bemoan the crumbling of existing order and ponder whether the United States' best days are in the past, when rising powers seem more comfortable throwing their weight around than the US government," he writes in the Washington Post. "These are days when American scandals and dysfunction and economic stagnation seem to wrong-foot US foreign policy aspirations at every opportunity."

He says this is one of those days, however, "when the United States is the greatest country in the world, because it makes stuff like this happen".

Not everyone has such a rosy view of the US actions, of course. Russian President Vladimir Putin made news on Thursday when he questioned US motivations behind the investigation, comparing it to the cases of Edward Snowden and Julian Assange.

Others are less conspiratorial, but still see indications that the US is overstepping its jurisdictional bounds in the Fifa case. Bloomberg View's Noah Feldman says the arrests in Switzerland echo previous US "extraordinary renditions" and "secret terrorism arrests", which have often been condemned by other nations.

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image captionVladimir Putin is suspicious of the US move against Fifa

He highlights the use of a US law aimed at breaking organised criminal enterprises and wonders if the global community will embrace the action, given its "reputation for extraterritorial imperialism".

"Through creative and aggressive use of a highly unusual American law, the US may well be seen as attempting a takeover of international soccer," he writes.

And if it's not seen that way, writes the Federalist's Jim Pagels, that may just be rank hypocrisy on the part of those currently showering the US with praise.

"Many of the same people who criticised the United States playing world police in Iraq are now cheerleading this news about the Department of Justice playing just that role in regard to Fifa," he says.

The final verdict on the US actions will have to wait for the coming days, weeks and months - hinging on successful prosecutions and whether Fifa undertakes what its critics consider meaningful reform.

For the moment, however, the story isn't a US government that's doing too much of this or too little of that in one region of the world or another. It's not drone strikes or sabre rattling; appeasement or belligerence.

The story is that the gears of the US justice system, and the rule of law, are grinding into action. And for many, it seems, that's nothing but good news.