One of the clear lessons from the FIFA corruption scandal is that when the U.S. government comes knocking, it requires a serious and thoughtful response. If the Justice Department wants information (or the Environmental Protection Agency for that matter, if you happen to be a large German automaker… ) you need to retain lawyers experienced in dealing with the U.S. government and form an appropriate response. Because U.S. regulators will not just slink off with their collective tails between their legs if you do not deign to respond because you believe they will go away. 

As reported by the Financial Times, FIFA’s response was particularly woeful and its response was led by the example of its now-suspended president, Sepp Blatter. Initially Blatter was “outraged at the timing” of the May arrests in Switzerland. Blatter led an effort to claim the U.S. had overstepped its authority in bringing criminal charges against non-U.S. citizens and against FIFA itself. Perhaps accepting that Blatter would not grasp the nuances of RICO and the effect of an allegation of a criminal enterprise under this law is understandable. Blatter’s defiance, however, as demonstrated by his unwillingness to voluntarily step aside, was not an acceptable response.

Just as clearly, the U.S. government is not out to destroy FIFA. Since the destruction of Arthur Andersen nearly 10 years ago, the U.S. government has been reluctant to wipe out the jobs of innocent workers by bringing down a company. FIFA is viewed as a victim, and indeed four U.S. courts have sent out “Victim Notices” to FIFA about upcoming court cases. But as the FT article wryly noted, “The key to maintaining victim status… is to act like a victim.”

This requires FIFA to cooperate with investigators and conduct its own investigation to determine what happened. The organization must then move to fix any problems which could exist, openly and with transparency. This would seem to have been the driver behind the suspensions of Blatter and UEFA head Michel Platini. Structural reforms of the organization will also be required, but Blatter’s continued denigration of the Swiss and U.S. investigation was not helping FIFA or assisting it to maintain its victim status.