There aren't many uplifting stories in the world of FIFA politics. Corruption charges abound. The men who run the World Cup -- and they are all men -- have stained the reputation of the organization that governs the world's most popular sport. But this year two soccer officials from the tiny Bahamas gave me reason for hope, and that's why I'm nominating them as my 2011 Sportsmen of the Year.
Anton Sealey is the president of the Bahamas Football Association. His vice-president is Fred Lunn. Together they blew the whistle on a cash-for-votes bribery scheme that brought down two of the three most powerful men in FIFA. In May, while Sealey was in Zürich preparing for the FIFA Congress, he sent Lunn to a special meeting of the Caribbean Football Union in Trinidad convened by CONCACAF president Jack Warner and FIFA presidential candidate Mohammed bin Hammam of Qatar.
At one point in the meeting, Warner instructed the attendees to get in line, whereupon they were each given envelopes and told not to open them in public. When Lunn opened his envelope, he discovered four bundles of $100 U.S. bills totaling $40,000 in cash. Warner would later explain that the money was a gift from Bin Hammam, but Lunn knew that cash gifts were a distinct violation of FIFA rules. He texted Sealey in Zurich: "What should I do?" Sealey replied that under no circmstances would the Bahamas FA accept such a cash gift and instructed Lunn to return the money.
The Caribbean soccer federations are some of the dirtiest in FIFA, and Lunn saw his colleagues gleefully opening their envelopes and splitting the cash. But he returned the money, and Sealey placed a call to CONCACAF general secretary Chuck Blazer (who wasn't at the meeting in Trinidad). Blazer reported the case to FIFA, which convened an investigation that resulted in Bin Hammam being banned for life from soccer and in Warner being forced to resign from all of his posts in the soccer world.
The only downside of the affair is that Bin Hammam's ouster from the FIFA presidential election came to the benefit of the incumbent, Sepp Blatter, who has presided over the descent of FIFA into the muck of corruption. As the only candidate in the June election, Blatter won another four-year term. But that shouldn't obscure the actions of the two men from the Bahamas, Lunn and Sealey, who risked their standing in Caribbean soccer to show that they couldn't be bought.
In soccer politics, where sleaze is everywhere and deceit rules the day, that's something worth celebrating.