By: Dylan Thompson*
“Corruption within FIFA” is not a new headline, even to a casual observer. Soccer’s main governing body has been burdened with allegations of corruption and foul-play for many years, and until recently there had not been serious action by US officials to expose the individuals responsible.
In October 2017, an ex-FIFA official was sentenced to eight months in prison after pleading guilty to wire fraud and conspiracy. Hector Trujillo, who used to lead Guatemala’s soccer program, admitted to accepting over $200,000 in bribes in return for the media rights of the Guatemalan national team’s World Cup qualifying matches. After a sentencing hearing in Brooklyn last week, the former judge is now the first person who will serve prison time as a result of an FBI investigation into FIFA’s corrupt behavior.
In order to understand the importance of this sentence, it is necessary to look at how the investigation has gotten to this point.
In May of 2015, seven FIFA officials were arrested in a hotel in Zurich at the behest of US authorities. In the months following, over 40 indictments were issued to current and former FIFA officials as well as sports marketing/broadcast executives on charges of “rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted corruption” based on an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The investigation started after the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar respectively, but has expanded to include FIFA’s behavior over the last 20 years. The FBI’s interest in the investigation stems from claims that the alleged corruption was planned in the US, and used US banks to transfer money important to that corruption.
The 40 indictments covered a wide variety of illegal activities, mostly based around the use of bribery to obtain media and marketing rights to the World Cup and other international tournaments, as well as World Cup hosting rights. The World Cup is the single most watched sporting event in the world, and FIFA earned two billion dollars in revenue from the 2014 World Cup alone. Most of the revenue FIFA generates from the World Cup comes from corporate sponsors looking to take advantage of the billions of people watching and through the media rights to broadcast the actual matches. Because of the sheer amount of money that is generated by a World Cup, people are willing to take risks, even illegal ones, to get a piece of the World Cup pie.
Hector Trujillo is one of those risk takers who is now paying for the consequences of his actions with jail time. While Trujillo is far from the most high-profile FIFA official to be associated with corruption, this sentencing is a positive step towards rebuilding FIFA’s damaged reputation. The FBI’s investigation has exposed the world to the corruption present within FIFA that many had already assumed was there. As difficult as it is to attack the groups responsible for an event that brings so much happiness, the dark reality of FIFA and its officials’ behavior deserves to be prosecuted to the fullest extent possible.
Hopefully Mr. Trujillo’s sentence will be the first of many for the individuals indicted by the FBI. The upcoming World Cup deserves to be enjoyed for the athletic and cultural celebration that it is, and not be marred by the actions of greedy individuals who used to work for FIFA.
* Staff Writer, Villanova University Sports Law Society Blog; J.D. Candidate, May 2020, Villanova University School of Law.
 Associated Press, Guatemala’s Hector Trujillo Sentenced to Eight Months in Prison, ESPNFC (Oct. 25 2017), http://www.espnfc.com/blog/fifa/243/post/3244420/guatemalas-hector-trujillo-is-first-sentenced-in-fifa-corruption-scandal-gets-eight-months-in-prison.