March 16, 2016

GENEVA (AP) Still portraying itself as a victim, FIFA has now added some startling and self-aggrandizing claims about its role in making soccer the world's most popular sport.

And it's all done in an effort to make a grab at some of the millions of dollars being held by U.S. authorities in their corruption case.

FIFA made its formal ''Victim Statement and Request for Restitution'' claim public on Wednesday. It was sent to U.S. federal prosecutors in New York, who have so far indicted or taken guilty pleas from 42 soccer and marketing executives plus agencies in a sprawling racketeering case.

The 22-page document submitted by FIFA's American lawyers staked its claim to a big share of close to $300 million in bribe money and assets seized or identified.

FIFA's aggressive move was notable given its scandal-riddled past suggests a passive acceptance, at the very least, of bribe-taking in its ranks.

The strategy could pay off with tens of millions of dollars heading to FIFA, which already has $1.4 billion in reserves.

But it also risks tensions with soccer bodies in North and South America, who have targeted the same pool of restitution money for themselves.

Regional bodies CONCACAF and CONMEBOL, and their national member federations, believe they are the main victims, betrayed by a generation of leaders who rose in the FIFA system and took bribes from marketing rights deals and tournament hosting votes.

Here are some questions about FIFA's claim:



FIFA's own answer depends on when the question was asked.

On May 27, after early-morning raids on FIFA headquarters and the Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich, the response to a spiraling crisis was to distance itself from the problem.

FIFA's official line was to be pleased that corruption was being rooted out, and shift blame on the confederations whose competitions - Copa America, Copa Libertadores, Gold Cup - were the source of most bribes linked to broadcasting rights.

A FIFA statement noted that arrests were ''for activities carried out in relation with CONCACAF and CONMEBOL business.''

Staff in Zurich bristled for months about media reports of the ''FIFA Scandal.'' Now, FIFA is taking some ownership.

Although FIFA was ''not responsible for the criminal conduct of these officials ... the defendants misappropriated FIFA's resources, its brand, and its commercial value to enlarge their own bank accounts,'' FIFA said in the claim.

FIFA also insists that victim status was bestowed by the attorney generals in the U.S. and Switzerland and is not their own claim.



Most experts agree that FIFA's biggest purposes are to organize World Cups, distribute profits to help all 209 member federations develop the game, and manage the laws of the game.

The restitution grab makes much grander claims, trying to persuade lawyers and judges in New York that FIFA deserves more money.

FIFA, founded in 1904 after British nations spread soccer worldwide, says it is the world's favorite sport ''largely because of FIFA's tireless efforts to promote it.'' FIFA also claims credit for players' pride representing their country at continental championships, like the 100-year-old Copa America.

''The only reason the world's top players could participate (is because FIFA) required those players' club teams to permit them to participate,'' the FIFA lawyers wrote.

There is no mention of the Champions League and Premier League, for instance, where big-money TV deals make players household names.

The claim, however, does note its support for women's soccer.

''Girls throughout the world now can dream that they too can play in a FIFA World Cup,'' FIFA said, leaving out the discrimination lawsuit filed ahead of the 2015 Women's World Cup after FIFA allowed organizers in Canada to stage matches on artificial turf.



Reading the restitution claim, it seems corruption and bribe-taking merely happened to a helpless FIFA against its will.

''The defendants dragged FIFA into their sordid misconduct and tarnished the FIFA brand,'' it stated.

That overlooks a series of self-inflicted blows to FIFA's reputation by scandals during the presidencies of Joao Havelange (1974-98) and successor Sepp Blatter.

Havelange oversaw the business model of FIFA during the commercial rights boom since the 1970s and himself took seven-figure kickbacks from World Cup deals. Now 99, the Brazilian gave up his FIFA honorary presidency in 2013 when the FIFA ethics committee finally examined a decade-old scandal linked to FIFA's marketing agency partner, ISL.

Blatter escaped censure in that case for returning a bribe intended for his then-boss that arrived at FIFA from ISL.

Bribery and corruption has been part of the FIFA system for at least 20 years. Some familiar names in the restitution document - Jack Warner, Chuck Blazer, Ricardo Teixeira - joined the FIFA executive committee in Havelange's time and flourished under Blatter.

Neither Havelange nor Blatter's names feature in the 22-page document.



FIFA has specified reasons for being repaid about $40 million that it spent on expenses and bonuses to corrupt officials, plus returning the ''theft'' of bribes paid during World Cup hosting votes.

''The amount of this graft should be returned to FIFA and its member associations to be distributed for the benefit of international football,'' FIFA said.

Much of that money could indeed find its way back to North and South America, where continental and national soccer bodies are also expected to seek a share of the seized money from U.S. authorities.

However, FIFA's claim for ''substantial'' legal costs will divert money intended for soccer to Washington-based legal firm Quinn Emanuel.

''FIFA is entitled to restitution for its attorney fees and business and legal costs that directly flowed from the indictments and ongoing investigations,'' it said.

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