The U.S. Soccer Federation’s secretary general sought to distance his group from the sport’s international governing body that is under investigation for corruption.
“Although our role and influence in FIFA has historically been limited, the federation has been a strong advocate for reforming the organization,” Daniel Flynn, chief executive officer of U.S. Soccer, told a Senate Commerce Committee hearing in Washington.
Flynn said the organization lacked direct representation on FIFA’s executive committee until two years ago, when current U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati won election to the body.
Soccer’s leadership has been in turmoil since seven top officials were arrested in Zurich at the request of U.S. prosecutors, who in May said an investigation found more than two decades of criminal activity inside the organization that leads the world’s most-watched sporting event.
The government’s plea deal with former FIFA executive committee member Charles “Chuck” Blazer, an American, unsealed last month, alleged 10 counts of criminal activity including racketeering and failure to pay taxes on $11 million in income. Blazer is a key witness in the investigation.
U.S. prosecutors charged 14 people with racketeering, wire fraud and money-laundering conspiracy after officials allegedly bought and sold votes for the 2010 World Cup and sought kickbacks from sports marketers. Four others have pleaded guilty.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter won a fifth term in office in May, but announced he would step down four days later.
Before he announced he was quitting, Blatter declined to appear at Wednesday’s hearing, said Garrette Turner, a spokeswoman for Senator Jerry Moran, a Kansas Republican and chairman of the subcommittee that oversees consumer protection, which includes sports.
“With the announcement that FIFA President Blatter plans to step down, we’re at a crossroads for the future of soccer,” Moran said. “Now is the time for the United States and U.S. Soccer Federation to engage and determine how we can encourage meaningful reforms.”
Lawmakers raised concerns over the award of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, which shed light on the country’s migrant labor system, particularly in the construction industry.
“According to some reports, as many as 4,000 migrant workers will die before the first ball is kicked at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar,” Moran said in prepared testimony. “That is appalling and unacceptable.”
Foreign workers in Qatar are often deprived of pay, prohibited from leaving the country and forced to work in dangerous conditions, said Sunjeev Bery, an advocacy director for Amnesty International, a human rights organization.
“Migrant construction workers and migrant service industry workers are on the frontline in delivering the World Cup experience in Qatar,” he told the panel in his prepared testimony.