FIFA's logo is seen in front of its headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland.

How a global sports scandal didn’t go to waste

To compensate victims of its mass corruption, world soccer’s governing body will work with the U.S. in distributing ill-gotten money for the good of the sport.

Six years ago, the world’s most popular game, soccer, saw its governing body, known as FIFA, suffer the biggest scandal the sport had ever seen. Dozens of FIFA officials as well as marketing executives were charged by the United States with various forms of corruption, from bribery to kickbacks, in relation to deals involving the World Cup and other competitions. Two people were convicted, most defendants pleaded guilty, and at least $200 million in ill-gotten gains was confiscated. U.S. prosecutors are still at work.

Now FIFA, which has since tried hard to clean up its worldwide operations, could become known as a leader in a global trend – helping victims of corruption feel whole again through remediation.

This month, FIFA will start working with the U.S. Justice Department to distribute some of that stolen money through a new charity arm and in other ways. The money will support such projects as developing girls’ soccer, or building up clubs in what is called “community restitution.”

The aim is to restore FIFA’s relationship with the billions of fans who enjoy “the beautiful game” and were harmed by the scandal in either direct or indirect ways. “I am delighted to see that money which was illegally siphoned out of football is now coming back to be used for its proper purposes, as it should have been in the first place,” said Gianni Infantino, an Italian chosen in 2016 to overhaul FIFA and make it transparent and accountable.

This type of justice for victims is still rare after successful prosecutions for graft. Typically, governments pocket money clawed back from the criminally corrupt. It is difficult to calculate all the damage inflicted on society from corruption or to pinpoint all its victims.

Since 1999, as more countries have prosecuted foreign bribery, an estimated $15 billion has been collected in confiscated proceeds, mainly by the U.S. and the United Kingdom. Now the U.S. decision to work with FIFA on remediation “can help us push for the introduction of victims’ compensation as standard practice in foreign bribery and money laundering cases,” according to corruption watchdog Transparency International.

One of history’s biggest sports scandal has created a strong precedent for restorative justice in the global fight against corruption.

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