By Tony Attwood. Research by Mike Mcfarlane
Goodness knows how many times the point has been made that the UK media deliberately censors football news, so that it meets its agreed and established agenda. (If you want a few examples see The ten big football stories that the media won’t cover.)
By way of a recent example when Europe was agog at the announcement by Uefa that it could not keep up with match fixing, and needed to bring in private organisations to help battle the scourge, that news was all over Europe, where the fallibility of referees is widely recognised. But in England… no. PGMO would have none of it. The only UK publisher that ran the tale was Untold.
Same again, as I have so often said, with the current battle between the Swiss government and Fifa which we have covered extensively. Barely a word in the media in Britain.
And now there’s another issue arising, and again, hardly any coverage. The Americans are getting very worked up about the regulations that control where matches can be played. For example when Tottenham’s ground was unfit to use because of building work, they needed to play elsewhere, and needed the League’s permission to use where ever they chose – which for the most part was Wembley.
But such a control is illegal in the USA under its “antitrust” which restricts any attempt to monopolise supply of goods and services, or lay down rules that restrict the freedom of those owning goods and services to make as much profit as they can.
This includes the issue of where a club or country plays. So when Kroenke decided to move one of his sports franchises from one city to another, he could do so without permission of the league involved or anyone else.
Now this is not the case in football, where Fifa declares that internationals are played within the territory of the country playing “at home” except of course in the big jamborees like the World Cup, where the finals are all played in the country of the most corrupt bidder (for example, Qatar).
It is now being argued in the USA that any Fifa ruling that dictates where matches can be played falls foul of the antitrust laws.
These laws go back to the late 19th and early 20th century. They primarily proscribe unlawful mergers and business practices in general terms, leaving courts to decide which ones are illegal based on the facts of each case. Thus the courts can apply the antitrust laws to changing markets and situations, but the objective is always the same: to protect the process of competition for the benefit of consumers, making sure there are strong incentives for businesses to operate efficiently, keep prices down, and keep quality up. A phrase that would undoubtedly send shivers through everyone in Fifa for a start.
In fact the Sherman Act outlaws “every contract, combination, or conspiracy in restraint of trade,” and any “monopolization, attempted monopolization, or conspiracy or combination to monopolize.”
The Supreme Court however has decided that the Sherman Act does not prohibit every restraint of trade, only those that are unreasonable such as price fixing. Almost certainly the highly secretive closed shop arrangement of PGMO giving it monopolistic control over how many referees there handling PL games would fall foul of the Sherman Act. That would not mean that anyone could referee at PL game, but rather that the process of applying to be a referee and the selection of referees for matches would need to be seen to be fair and open, rather than being controlled within an ultra-secretive society as is the case now in England.
The penalties for violating the Sherman Act in the US can be severe. The Sherman Act is a criminal law, and individuals and businesses that violate it may be prosecuted by the Department of Justice. Criminal prosecutions are typically limited to intentional and clear violations such as when competitors fix prices or rig bids. The Sherman Act imposes criminal penalties of up to $100 million for a corporation and $1 million for an individual, along with up to 10 years in prison.
Under federal law, the maximum fine may be increased to twice the amount the conspirators gained from the illegal acts or twice the money lost by the victims of the crime, if either of those amounts is over $100 million.
The Federal Trade Commission Act also bans “unfair methods of competition” and “unfair or deceptive acts or practices,” and all violations of the Sherman Act also violate the FTC Act. This is thus the route that can be used by the USA authorities to stop corruption, and to stop anti-competitive behaviour by Fifa.
Thus if Fifa conspired with others to ensure that Qatar won the right to the 2022 world cup finals, its individual officers and the association itself would be in breach of the acts. The story of that, and the Untold exclusive which (had Fifa execs been reading Untold) would have helped them avoid the arrests, was published here on 22 January 2015 in Switzerland take a greater interest in Fifa – at last.
So now as the Associated Press news agency tells all its subscribers, “The US Justice Department has entered into a sports dispute involving the company of a long-time friend of President Donald Trump, warning Fifa that a prohibition against staging league matches internationally could violate American antitrust laws.” Which means the UK media knows about this, but is deliberately not covering it – just as it has deliberately not covered all the other issues about Fifa’s problems.
Now Makan Delrahim, the assistant attorney general who heads the Justice Department’s antitrust division, has written a letter to Infantino at Fifa stating that, “Market allocation is a per se violation of the US antitrust laws.”
The letter continues, “Sports organisations are not categorically immune from liability under the rules. In particular, they apply to Fifa and its affiliates, including the United States Soccer Federation, in the same manner that they apply to any other organisation whose activities substantially affect the United States. We specifically are concerned that Fifa could violate US antitrust laws by restricting the territory in which teams can play league games.”
Not surprisingly, being somewhat taken up by appearances in the Swiss courts concerning other matters, Fifa has currently decided to ignore the USA courts. Just as it did in January 2015 – which led a few months later to representatives of the Transnational Organised Crime division of the FBI arresting a substantial number of Fifa officials.
This could get interesting.
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