U.S. keeping focus on World Cup amid FIFA corruption probe

Published May. 28, 2015 7:49 p.m. EDT

NEW YORK -- Let’s take a vote.

With the 2015 Women’s World Cup set to kick off on June 6, was it good timing or bad timing that U.S. law enforcement rode into Switzerland and hauled off some of FIFA’s top officials?

I vote the way the U.S. women’s national team seems to have voted: Who cares?

"The reaction is that there is no reaction," said veteran U.S. center back Christie Rampone who is headed to her fifth World Cup, adding: "The focus right now is the World Cup.’’


Talk about a strong defense!

What Rampone meant -- and we’re taking a little interpretive liberty here -- is that in the short term, as in over the next month before the Women’s World Cup final is played on July 5 in Vancouver, women’s soccer should not get sidetracked by the indictment of FIFA officials by the F.B.I., or another important investigation underway by Swiss officials. If anyone thinks the FIFA scandal is a way to draw attention to the women's game, find another narrative.

It’s understandable, perhaps, that the timing of the FIFA arrests this very week came just days before FIFA holds what has long expected to be the “re-coronation” of its president, Sepp Blatter. The arrests put a spotlight on those FIFA board votes for president -- a signal to the world how embedded they all are in FIFA’s corrupt cronyism.

The arrests throw into real question whether Blatter can possibly avoid his own demise given the surge of pressure now being applied not just by law enforcement, but where real power here rests: corporate sponsors.

However, the “good thing” about being treated as the “little sisters” by FIFA; the good thing about being made to feel as you are some kind of a nice sideshow to the men’s mega-billion-dollar soccer industry is that, when the bribery and corruption crap hits the international fan, the “little sisters” can adopt a face of bemused disinterest and defiant neglect.

In New York this week, as the U.S. national team prepares for its final Send-Off Series friendly against Korea (Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET, Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J.) the U.S. women had no plans of addressing what is one of the biggest sports scandals in history. That said, the thought bubble over Abby Wambach’s head sure seemed to be a little more thorough than the bland, verbal swat-down she gave when asked about the FBI’s indictment of FIFA officials:

“Whatever happens in Switzerland or in Brazil or in Japan … with their federations, or even our own federation in FIFA, we have no idea what goes on, nor do we have control,” Wambach said.

Translation: Oh, FIFA? You mean the guys who make $3 billion from the men’s World Cup but have allowed us “girls” to play the most important soccer tournament in the world on artificial turf? Are they in trouble, finally?

This is the same Wambach who, among a group of international women players including Germany’s Nadine Angerer and Canada’s Christine Sinclair and Brazil’s Marta, sued FIFA over the use of turf in Canada. And -- in a move that may have highlighted how highly the women value this World Cup platform to show the world how far these skilled players and excellent teams have taken soccer -- the women dropped their suit against FIFA because they knew FIFA’s nasty habits. This is the same group whose president, Sepp Blatter, suggested the women wear tighter uniforms, just before he called himself the godfather of women’s soccer.

On the principled matter of the turf issue, the women knew that FIFA was going to drag out a legal process that would, ultimately, cause serious damage to the narrative and the atmosphere surrounding their World Cup.

Like the discriminatory decision by FIFA to allow turf for the women, FIFA’s innate and widespread corruption is now a taint that the women will not allow to infest their stage.

“I want to talk about Megan Rapinoe and Hope Solo and what they’re doing on the pitch, not what FIFA is doing behind back channels,’’ Wambach said Wednesday, adding that even the turf issue is now off the table as a topic of conversation.

The idea that the long-overdue shakedown of FIFA by any authority would either detract from or attract more attention to the Women’s World Cup got zero iota of credibility from the U.S. women. They just don’t want to hear about it and, frankly, they deserve better.

What this Women’s World Cup means to the game of soccer cannot, and should not, be derailed, tainted or subjugated to a storyline that says FIFA is corrupt and must change. That is a given!

What this Women’s World Cup is about is defending champion Japan. You know what? They are being overlooked as perhaps a fluke winner in 2011, brought to their championship surge because the Japan women’s national team was playing for their country, ravaged by the tsunami and nuclear disaster that followed.

Guess what? Japan head coach Norio Sasaki said this year’s team is better.

Is that a good reason to watch?

Then there’s France. Point blank, they are stunningly good. Don’t miss them.

Then there’s Germany. No. 1 in the world. Their head coach, Silvia Neid, is probably the best there has been the past decade.

Then there is Sweden, under former U.S. head coach Pia Sundhage. They, too, have the talent to go deep but will they come together? Watching that process will be great theater.

There’s Brazil, with the best player ever in Marta. Is she not good enough to deserve exemption from the stench of Blatter & Co.? Canada, too, is compelling -- a team that wants to win on home soil and sports the widely respected striker Christine Sinclair. They made a stamp with her face on it in Canada.

Then there’s the U.S. They think they are on a mission to take back what they lost in 2011, what they did not win in 2007, what they failed to do in 2003. They carry with them 16 years of World Cup droughts and are trying to summon the sense that somehow, this is the time for them to declare that they can do what the 1999 U.S. women did in order to secure their legacy.

Wambach and the U.S. women need a World Cup win, not a FIFA fail.

"Right now you are damn right I need it," Wambach spit out. "It is all I am thinking about and all that is on my mind."

Got that, FIFA?