• "The Lance Armstrong of soccer governance"? FIFA president Sepp Blatter. (Getty)
Arguably the two most important people in the history of the two most global sports were complete unknowns till recently, writes Anthony Tan.
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29 May 2015 - 5:06 PM  UPDATED 30 May 2015 - 2:22 AM

God bless America.

"Sepp Blatter is the Lance Armstrong of soccer governance," Andy Spalding, a law professor at the University of Richmond, Virginia who also teaches at the Anti-Corruption Academy in Vienna, Austria, told USA Today.

"While everyone around him is mired in corruption scandals, he stands atop the stinking heap claiming to smell like roses."

Isn't it a touch ironic that the biggest corruption bust in the history of sport, not to mention the October 2012 exposé that detailed "the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping program that sport has ever seen" - two sports with established European roots - has been led by a nation with virtually no allegiance to either code?

For the U.S. Postal Service Pro Cycling Team, it was first the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and when they mysteriously shelved their 18-month investigation, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) took the baton and ran with it - all the way to the line. This time, it's the Department of Justice (DOJ), working in hand with the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation), that as of Wednesday this week has seen a 47-count racketeering, conspiracy and corruption indictment of 14 people including nine former FIFA officials or associated with governing bodies.

"FIFA - including the IOC and UCI - is among some sixty sporting federations based in Switzerland that are exempt from the nation's anti-corruption laws."

It seems in both the cases of FIFA and U.S. Postal Service, there was no one in Europe with the will - or balls - to fight it.

I've spent the past month travelling in the United States, from California to New York to Ohio to Illinois to Missouri to Kansas to Oklahoma to Texas and towns and cities in between, large and small. I'm still here, in fact. One thing I can tell you is that professional cycling or football (that being soccer) is rarely talked about in bars, restaurants, buses, taxis, trains or trams across this country of 320 million people, and when it is, it's unusual.

Perhaps it's a good thing, not being beholden to either aforementioned sporting code the way Europe so clearly is. Because what the U.S. Postal and FIFA scandals appear to have demonstrated is that countries which do embrace professional cycling and football find themselves in thrall to their international governing bodies - and particulary the latter, where 90 percent of FIFA's US$5.72 billion revenue from 2011-14 was derived from the sale of TV and marketing rights for the men's World Cup to its 209 member associations.

In America, ask Joe Average who Blatter or Brian Cookson is and they wouldn't have a bloody clue.

But USADA CEO Travis Tygart knows. And so does U.S. attorney general Loretta Lynch, the lady spearheading the FIFA investigation - which must rile Blatter no end, given his much-publicised sexist commentary (women's soccer would gain popularity if the players wore tighter shorts, he once suggested) and ideas since his appointment as president in 1998, including FIFA's refusal to install real grass in the stadiums for next month's Women's World Cup in Canada.

It's worth noting that FIFA - including the IOC and UCI - is among some sixty sporting federations based in Switzerland that are exempt from the nation's anti-corruption laws. By virtue of being classed as "associations", they effectively govern themselves and their activties, and are under no obligation to make their financial accounts public. If passed, however, new legislation, to be debated in Swiss parliament next week, will allow top-ranking executives of these so called associations, in the event of a charge of corruption or other crimes, to be designated as "politically exposed persons", and thus grant local authorities greater control over their practices and conduct.

"The beautiful game was hijacked," FBI Director James Comey told a news conference Wednesday. "That field that is so famously flat was tilted... in favour of those seeking to profit."

Comey added: "Undisclosed and illegal payments, kickbacks and bribes became a way of doing business at FIFA."

Blatter, meanwhile, has not been charged and is claiming innocence (Sargeant Schultz: "I know nuh-fink!"), apparently saying he had no knowledge of almost 25 years' corporate malfeseance - amounting to US$150 million in bribes and kickbacks - within the organisation he has been a part of since 1975, when he joined its marketing department. Augmenting the calamity was the knee-jerk announcement - on the same day the DOJ released its findings - that Friday's presidential election was to go ahead, with the incumbent expected to be unchallenged and win a fifth term.

Also ruled out was any reconsideration, review, or revote of the host nations for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, being Russia and Qatar, respectively, despite the Lynch-led probe calling the legitimacy of both into question.

And you thought cycling was a basketcase.