The release of what is being heralded as the “WikiLeaks for rich people” has exposed a fresh batch of evidence implicating FIFA in more corruption. Specifically, tax evasion facilitated through the law firm Mossack Fonseca. These allegations emerged recently after the FBI launched an incredibly detailed investigation into FIFA in 2015. One of the confederations that FIFA consists of is the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) and its former leader Michel Platini is the subject of most of the documents released.
So what did Mossack Fonseca do? It helped wealthy clients avoid paying taxes by hiding their money in “shell” companies. These companies would be based in countries with very friendly tax laws, thus providing a fairly easy process of tax evasion. Former UEFA president Michel Platini is implicated in taking part in this program. Unfortunately for FIFA, with Platini’s involvement indicated, there is now an important tie to its recently-appointed President, Gianni Infantino. As a former leader in the organization of UEFA, Infantino is also suspected of corruption.
Mossack Fonseca also housed documents showing an apparent case of bribery over television rights. The company Cross Trading allegedly bought off former FIFA Vice President Eugenio Figueredo. This case also ties in more members of FIFA, ironically those on the FIFA Ethics Committee.
What makes this so important is that the downfall of Platini could also trigger a domino effect among FIFA and UEFA officials over the coming years. This new motherlode of evidence from the Panama Papers will just add more strength to the existing FBI investigation into FIFA, as well as hopefully inspiring other investigations across Europe. This leak of documents has confirmed what most people in the world of soccer already believed: that FIFA was corrupt from top to bottom and replacing Sepp Blatter wouldn’t change a thing.
Unfortunately, FIFA officials were not the only individuals implicated in this release. Superstar Lionel Messi has also been revealed to have been avoiding Spanish taxes worth up to four million euros from 2007to 2009. This is not a new issue; Messi has been involved with the Spanish authorities before regarding tax evasion,but these documents add virtually all the evidence needed to prosecute both Messi and his father, Jorge.
Messi was not the only Barcelona player involved. His teammate and costar Neymar has also been listed in this release. However, Neymar’s case seems to work on a much smaller scale as most of the issue revolves around his unreleased contract with Barcelona when he signed for the Catalan giant in 2013. Similarly to Messi, rumors have circulated about shady clauses in the contract that served to benefit Neymar’s father, but none have been confirmed.
As I write this article and learn more and more about both the corruption of FIFA and possibly even Lionel Messi and Neymar, my conscience is very divided. As a fan of the sport, I am hopeful that there are no major consequences for both Messi and Neymar. But I also wish that FIFA officials were harshly removed from governing the sport I love. This double standard is unpleasant. I hope that there is some opportunity for Messi and Neymar to take responsibility for their crimes, yet I do not hope for a similar blessing for FIFA members. With an objective opinion, it is very clear that all parties deserve severe repercussions.
The likely outcome will be that all parties will walk away unpunished. There will be some legal loophole that Messi, Neymar, their fathers and FIFA officials will discover and use to their benefit and just like that, business will continue as usual. What this reveals is an unfortunate truth about the world of professional soccer. Corruption is not limited to the suit-and-tie officials of FIFA. It expands farther than that. For there to be reform, it must expand farther than FIFA itself.