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ESPN Documentary Explores Allegations Of Corruption Within FIFA


Sepp Blatter just might be the most powerful sports figure in the world. He's been president of the FIFA, the governing body of soccer, for 17 years, and he's widely expected to be re-elected to that post later this month when FIFA's 209 member nations will choose their next leader. Blatter is the favorite despite - or maybe because of - an alleged culture of corruption within FIFA - allegations that go back many years. This week, ESPN aired a documentary about Sepp Blatter. It was by the network's Jeremy Schaap, and he joins us now. Welcome to program.

JEREMY SCHAAP: Thanks, Melissa.

BLOCK: And let's play a little bit of tape from this documentary. You talk to a woman who was fired from her job as a media consultant for Qatar's bid committee. They were trying to get the world cup, and ultimately, they did. Here's what she told you about seeing bribes exchanged.


PHAEDRA ALMAJID: I witnessed the Qatari team offering two different ExCo members money in exchange for their vote.

SCHAAP: How much money?

ALMAJID: $1.5 million.

SCHAAP: Per...

ALMAJID: Per vote.

BLOCK: When she says ExCo, that's the Executive Committee of FIFA. How common are allegations like this about FIFA's culture? Just how widespread is the corruption alleged to be?

SCHAAP: Well, there have been so many different corruption scandals over the last several decades. It's not just about the bidding for the 2022 World Cup. It's also about the bidding for the 2018 World Cup. The head of that bid for England, which wanted to host the 2018 World Cup, Lord David Triesman, testified before Parliament that one member of the executive committee wanted $4 million; another wanted a knighthood. There have been allegations for a long time that the election in 1998 that made Sepp Blatter FIFA's president was essentially rigged. I mean, it's not even clear that the kinds of requests made from some of these executive committee members are against FIFA rules.

BLOCK: At the end of your documentary, Jeremy, you talk about the FBI investigation into FIFA. Do we know what exactly the FBI is looking into?

SCHAAP: We don't know exactly. We believe that it's related to the bidding for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. And what has been reported - first by the New York Daily News and other people who have told us at ESPN - is that Chuck Blazer, who was the highest-ranking American in FIFA for many years, is cooperating with the investigation.

BLOCK: And you raise this intriguing notion in your film that Sepp Blatter is refusing to set foot in the United States. The presumption being - what - he's afraid of being arrested if he were to come here.

SCHAAP: Well, that's certainly one of the possibilities. He hasn't been in the U.S. since 2011. And when I asked FIFA directly when is the last time the president of FIFA was in the U.S., it said it would take too much work to tell me. It did issue something of a non-denial, denial non-answer to several media entities when it was asked about this issue, saying the FBI has never asked him to submit to questioning. And he's not afraid of coming to the U.S. because he might be questioned by the FBI.

BLOCK: The allegations have been swirling for so long, so many years, was there anything you learned in the course of doing this documentary that surprised you, anything you hadn't heard before about Sepp Blatter and how he rules this organization?

SCHAAP: I think what opened a lot of people's eyes with this show isn't so much new revelations, but the accretion of detail, I think, stunned a lot of people. One of the things to bear in mind here - why has he managed to maintain power for so long? It really is the system. There are 209 FIFA members, and they all have an equal say in the process of electing the president. If the president of FIFA can keep 105 of those members happy, it doesn't matter what the rest of the world thinks. And if someone comes in who is interested in transparency, good governance, all of these kinds of things, maybe they change the system. There are a lot of reasons for a lot of members not to want to see the system changed.

BLOCK: Jeremy Schaap, thanks so much for talking to us.

SCHAAP: Thanks, Melissa.

BLOCK: Jeremy Schaap is the host of "E:60 Reports" on ESPN. We were talking about his documentary about Sepp Blatter and FIFA. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.