Florida. Somehow we always get it wrong and cannot escape controversy. As the world watched on Wednesday the Department of Justice, FBI and Swiss authorities in coordination indicted and arrested some of the biggest figures in world football (soccer) on charges of racketeering, conspiracy and corruption. The heart of the scandal revolved around Miami, and in fact the two offices raided by the FBI and IRS yesterday were both in Miami-Dade County.
While soccer is a growing sport in the state, the traditional circle around the game is relatively small so a few of the subjects that were indicted are individuals I know and in one case have worked with. Traffic Sports, whose Chairman has already plead guilty and whose USA division President Aaron Davidson was indicted yesterday was the chief marketing agency for the North American Soccer League (NASL) during my tenure at the league and the owners until November 2014 of the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. Davidson was the single most influential figure in the marketing of NASL and the direction of the Strikers.
Fort Lauderdale thankfully now is under independent ownership headed by Ricardo Geromel, a savvy young American-educated Brazilian businessman. Had the Strikers not been sold last year, the very future of the club would be in grave doubt today due to the unfolding scandal. Traffic Sports USA division is based in Miami and until 2013 handled much of the NASL’s financial business. In fact when I was Communications Director of NASL, my office was in the same building as Traffic’s for purposes of convenience. But in time, Traffic exercised less and less control over the communications messaging of the league but continued to have a great influence on the business side of matters.
More importantly the head office of CONCACAF, one of six FIFA Confederations and the epicenter of the FBI probe is in Miami Beach. During much of the period when the alleged misconduct took place, CONCACAF which is the governing body for the sport in North and Central America as well as the Caribbean was based in New York. It is here that Chuck Blazer, a self confessed “soccer dad” from the New York suburbs became a leading figure. Blazer who now infamously had an apartment at Trump Tower for his pet cats use was closely connected to Davidson and Traffic Sports through a series of business dealings related to CONCACAF.
Blazer came under investigation of the IRS and eventually turned FBI informant. The trail of corruption uncovered led directly to a number of national federations under the CONCACAF umbrella and leaders of the Confederation itself. That trail also led to Traffic Sports who in 2012 were rewarded with many lucrative contracts from CONCACAF that had previously been handled by MLS’ Soccer United Marketing (SUM) division. In 2012, CONCACAF also moved its head office from New York to Miami Beach, and much of the alleged misconduct detailed in yesterday’s indictments took place in southeast Florida.
By appearing at the press conference in front of the assembled global press, Attorney General Loretta Lynch and FBI Director James Comey demonstrated to the world how seriously the United States government takes this investigation and the taint that has been placed on the sport. While the type of shady business that is permitted or even encouraged in this sport in parts abroad might escape detection or interest of authorities in those countries, the United States proved yesterday we are a nation of laws and that rooting out corruption remains at the heart of what our law enforcement agencies do.
For that we should all be proud to be Americans.