US soccer chief felt ‘discomfort’ during soccer proceedings

WASHINGTON (AP) U.S. Soccer Federation chief executive Dan Flynn said Wednesday he had no direct knowledge of bribery or kickbacks exchanged by FIFA officials but experienced moments of ”discomfort” during meetings.

Flynn, testifying at a U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing, cited methods of votes at meetings of CONCACAF, soccer’s regional governing body for North and Central America and the Caribbean.

Former CONCACAF presidents Jack Warner and Jeffrey Webb were among the 14 men indicted in late May in the U.S. Justice Department’s ongoing corruption investigation of soccer’s world governing body.

”The discomfort was kind of in generalities,” Flynn said. ”How (Warner) ran the meeting and went through an agenda and had hand votes first, sealed votes, those were the kinds of discomforts that led me to some sort of discomfort.”

Flynn joined three other panelists in testifying on the governance and integrity of international soccer. The hearing was convened by the Senate subcommittee on consumer protection, product safety, insurance and data security.

The Justice Department’s indictment of nine FIFA officials and five corporate executives cites alleged bribes and kickbacks of more than $100 million made regarding media rights deals for matches across the Americas.

Meanwhile, the government of Switzerland, the home of FIFA’s global headquarters, has launched a separate probe into suspected money laundering connected to the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. The United States was considered among the favorites to host the 2022 tournament, but lost out to Qatar.

In early June, FIFA President Sepp Blatter announced his intention to resign just four days after being re-elected to his fifth term.

”What has been revealed so far is a mafia style crime syndicate in charge of this sport,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), the subcommittee’s ranking democrat. ”My only hesitation in using that term is it is almost insulting to the Mafia because the Mafia would never have been so blatant, overt and arrogant in its corruption.”

When Blumenthal later asked if Flynn or others in the USSF should’ve pushed FIFA or CONCACAF earlier for more transparency, Flynn said doing so may have jeopardized the United States’ sway and any chance to make reforms.

”I had no hard evidence, and we wanted to try to continue to participate and influence (FIFA) as one of 209 members,” Flynn said. The other choice, Flynn said, was to opt out entirely of FIFA, which would’ve basically eliminated the United States from all global competitions.

While Flynn pledged to push for reforms and pointed to measures adapted by CONCACAF earlier this month, investigative journalist and filmmaker Andrew Jennings suggested FIFA was beyond repair.

”FIFA’s going to be dissolved – they don’t want reform,” said Jennings, who has published two separate books examining alleged corruption within the organization during the past decade.

He suggested the USSF could lead the way in creating an alternative.

”What America should do is engage the clean, decent football associations around the world, create a new organization based in another land and invite sponsors and TV networks to go with them,” Jennings said. ”I can’t see Coca Cola, McDonald’s and Visa going with remnants of Blatter’s organized crime family.”

This story has been corrected to correct the speaker to Jennings in the quote in the final paragraph.