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Indictments Bring To Light FIFA's Veil Of Secrecy

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Now, many soccer fans reacted to the FIFA arrests with a collective it is about time. But if millions around the world suspected wrongdoing, how might FIFA officials have gotten away with it for so long? Here's NPR's Tom Goldman.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Quick answer, FIFA's structure practically invites corruption according to Smith College economics professor, Andrew Zimbalist.

ANDREW ZIMBALIST: This is a world monopoly. There is only one organization in the world that produces the World Cup. And because it's international or transnational, it's not subject directly to any government oversight.

GOLDMAN: Throw in the more than $5 billion Zimbalist says FIFA generates every four years through World Cup sponsorships, TV contracts, ticket sales.

ZIMBALIST: So, Sepp Blatter can use that money to strengthen his organization, to live high on the hog and to insulate the organization from any kind of interference.

GOLDMAN: Without interference, FIFA has been able to maintain a veil of secrecy about what it does.

ANDREW JENNINGS: They go through a very limited audit process of their riches.

GOLDMAN: And it won't answer questions, according to longtime investigative reporter Andrew Jennings.

ZIMBALIST: They have an aversion to speaking to the press, unless it's platitudes from President Blatter. It's a closed world.

GOLDMAN: Jennings has been one of the few to open it up. Having spent a career exposing wrongdoing in the International Olympic Committee, Jennings trained his sights on FIFA in the early 2000s. One of his first moves was showing up at a Sepp Blatter press conference and essentially announcing his presence.

JENNINGS: I grabbed the roving mic and said, here, Blatter, have you ever taken a bribe? Gosh, his face nearly fell off and hit the floor. He couldn't believe it. Nobody speaks to El Presidente with such disrespect.

GOLDMAN: Blatter said no. He's always denied corruption charges, but Jennings says his stunt did the trick. Six weeks later, a sympathetic insider, what Jennings calls one of the moral people working inside FIFA, provided secret internal documents. Jennings claims the documents he's collected over more than a decade aided law enforcement officials who struck Wednesday. This week, The Guardian newspaper praised Jennings for his dogged obsession. Now, questions turn to change in light of this week's indictment and today's election. Professor Zimbalist, who recently wrote "Circus Maximus: The Economic Gamble Behind Hosting The Olympics And The World Cup," thinks FIFA's structure as a monopoly with great economic power won't change. But, he says, if the upheaval of this week leads to good people in power...

ZIMBALIST: Then FIFA will get to be a cleaner organization and a more efficient organization.

GOLDMAN: Andrew Jennings agrees and thinks change is possible because of more global pressure by all those who once suspected FIFA but who now know. Tom Goldman, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.