What Could FIFA’s Potential Relocation to the USA Mean to Soccer? | Sports Destination Management

What Could FIFA’s Potential Relocation to the USA Mean to Soccer?

Oct 07, 2021 | By: Mary Helen Sprecher
The FIFA headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland could move part (or perhaps all) of its operations to the USA. Photo © Michael Müller | Dreamstime.com

FIFA is never far from the headlines these days. After floating a trial plan to change the World Cup to every two years, and while visiting host venues and cities for the 2026 World Cup, the organization has let it slip that it is considering relocating its headquarters from Zurich to here.

Yes, here. In the USA.

The news was first reported in the New York Times at the end of September, and was picked up by numerous wire services, blogs and other outlets almost immediately.

So what’s behind the idea? According to industry insiders, it’s complicated.

Latest Page News says some of the incentive is monetary in nature, with FIFA wanting to move, at the very least, its financial operations to the USA. Whether or not the organization moves may depend on its ability to locate suitable headquarters on the east or west coast, as well as its ability to obtain work visas for employees and find amenable tax regulations.

Additionally, the Times points out, “Officials are hopeful that relocating its commercial business to a major American city would help FIFA attract and retain key staff members, amid concerns that its current home is proving a hurdle in attracting talent. Local regulations require FIFA to employ a fixed number of Swiss staff members.”

Being in the USA would also put FIFA closer to companies it sees as prime sponsorship prospects and would allow it to help promote the sport in this country, where it does not enjoy quite as much commercial popularity as in the rest of the world.

And while it’s unlikely the booming youth market would see changes from FIFA’s presence, there could be more significant shifts at higher levels; FIFA would undoubtedly like to see stronger financial positions of professional teams in all leagues. (It’s also likely it will want to discuss reforms to the National Women’s Soccer League).

An American presence, some pundits suggest, will also give FIFA more enhanced control over the 2026 World Cup, a large portion of which will be presented in the USA.

But this is not FIFA’s first exodus from Zurich. In October 2020, the organization announced it would outsource some of its business functions to an office in Paris. The announcement followed a meeting between French president Emmanuel Macron, FIFA president Gianni Infantino and French Football Association (FFF) president Noël Le Graët.

One of the reasons for that move was to bring FIFA closer to Africa, said News In 24 – although according to the New York Times, a separate corruption scandal involving the president of the regional governing body on the continent led to FIFA seizing complete control of those activities.

Reporters at News In 24 noted the move to Paris was symbolic as well (and even a little sentimental):

“It is a bit of a homecoming that looms with the relocation of part of [FIFA] to Paris. Established in Zurich (Switzerland) since 1935, FIFA will return, at least partially, to the city where it was born, since it was in Paris that it was founded in 1904, a few hundred meters from the Place de la Concorde.”

But there’s not much sentiment attached to a move to the USA. After all, it was this country’s Department of Justice that led the wide-scale raid on FIFA’s headquarters in Zurich in 2015 that led to the arrests of several members of FIFA’s board as well as the resignation of its president Sepp Blatter – and uncovered not just years but decades of corrupt practices. (The Times notes that some former FIFA executives, possibly fearing arrest, have not set foot in North America since the scandal.)

But still…the USA? Well, says the Times, Switzerland is turning into a trouble spot as well. Swiss officials, who were supposed to follow up with their own investigation, have done a lackluster job:

Gianni Infantino, who replaced Blatter, has faced a years-long investigation into his relationship with Michael Lauber, Switzerland’s former attorney general. Lauber, who was forced out after revelations that he held private meetings with Infantino, was responsible for Swiss investigations stemming from the 2015 American indictment. Those inquiries have yielded few charges.

The failure of the Swiss authorities to act in the corruption case has frustrated elements of FIFA’s current leadership, who have privately expressed incredulity at the inaction given the amount of evidence obtained in searches of FIFA’s headquarters. At the same time, the investigation into Infantino led to a furious response, with FIFA’s assistant secretary general branding it “a little grotesque and unfair.”

All of this unpleasant activity has encouraged FIFA to look elsewhere for a new start.

And maybe, just maybe, the time is right. FIFA officials have been cooperating with the DOJ as it continues its investigation (yes, it’s still going on).

“Some of the fruits of those improved ties were made clear last month when FIFA and its two regional confederations most implicated in the 2015 scandal were cleared to receive more than $200 million recovered from companies and individuals,” noted Times reporters. “The Justice Department said the money would have to be administered through FIFA.”

SDM will continue to follow this developing issue.

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