By Dan Bernstein
CBS Chicago Senior Columnist
To not be able to share in such a great story is a bit of an empty feeling.
It has everything to this point, even as it continues to unfold with more by the day. Massive corruption by FIFA, world soccer’s central body, exposed by the US Justice Department with help from other governments. Newly-minted Attorney General Loretta Lynch is Wyatt Earp cleaning up Tombstone, acting first and talking tough later.
Arrests at dawn in luxury hotels, and charges of bribery, wire fraud, money laundering and racketeering stretching back a quarter-century were the beginning of the beginning, as the feds start to work from the bottom upward, cutting deals to flip the underlings for evidence and testimony on their way to the top of the venal pyramid.
It’s Sepp Blatter they want — soccer’s grim overlord – and they may get him soon. He resigned his post abruptly Tuesday, setting off a worldwide party that seems like so much fun from the outside. This is one of these times that I wish I cared more about the sport, if only for the chance to revel as others are.
Check out the emotion from Politico Europe’s Tunku Varadarajan, in an article sub-headlined “A time for relief, celebration and a brand new beginning.” “Apart from proving that there is a God,” he says, “Blatter’s departure offers soccer – and FIFA – the chance of a glorious, cathartic new beginning. This is a resounding victory for the rule of law, and for the United States as the world’s judicial superpower.”
Lifelong soccer fans can gorge at this smorgasbord of satisfaction and schadenfreude in a way that the rest of us cannot. On one hand, there is joy in believing that a sport can eventually now be consumed without having to ignore its seamy underbelly of graft and corruption, even slave labor and death. Reclaiming the world’s game from such an ugly dictatorship is enough to merit a carnival in the streets.
But that it’s Blatter himself makes it even more appetizing. This is a genuinely bad guy, a perfect plutocrat seemingly made of the accoutrements of power itself: the private planes and police escorts, presidential suites and chef’s tables. All scowly and jowly, looking vaguely like a muppet and with a name that sounds like a urinary tract infection, it must be fun to watch him go down. For him to be toppled from his lofty perch is spectacle alone, but longtime opponents and detractors can be forgiven the tantalizing fantasy of indictment, extradition to the US, a nice orange jumpsuit and a cell at Riker’s.
He makes Roger Goodell look like an amateur, a mere blockhead frat-boy. Blatter is a James Bond villain, now having been dragged out of his mountainside lair.
Those of us who don’t live and breathe soccer are not invited to this feast, not without skin in the game. I don’t actively dislike soccer, having played through high school both indoor and outdoor, enjoying the World Cup games when they come around, and clicking on highlights that appear in my timeline (anybody unable or unwilling to appreciate the pure athletic poetry of a Lionel Messi goal should just give up liking sports). But I don’t get to pretend that I really have had any emotion invested.
The international soccer community can watch delightedly as a crooked, once seemingly-impenetrable power structure finally crumbles before them, ushering in hope for new and better things.
I’ll have to be content when the same happens to Illinois politicians.