Amidst swirling allegations of corruption this summer involving Qatar's bid to host the 2022 World Cup, another FIFA official in another part of the world has come under scrutiny, as Canover Watson was arrested on suspicion of corruption and money laundering before being released on bail.
According to a Sky Sports report, Watson—the vice-president of the Caribbean Football Union and a member of FIFA's audit and compliance committee—was arrested by the Royal Cayman Islands Police Anti-Corruption Unit:
According to a police statement, Watson was arrested for 'suspicion of breach of trust contrary to section 13 of the Cayman Islands Anti-Corruption Law, as well as abuse of public office.' Their statement also reported there had been 'a conflict of interest and suspicion of money laundering contrary to section 133 of the Proceeds of Crime Law.'
A statement from Watson to local media denied any wrongdoing:
'I make this brief statement following my arrest in relation to suspected offences contrary to the Anti-Corruption Law. The allegations are denied. In due course, at the proper time and in the appropriate forum, I look forward to setting out my position in greater detail. I have been advised by my attorneys that it would be inappropriate for me to make further comment.'
While it is important to distinguish that these are just charges levied against Watson, it would be a huge blight for FIFA—and a delicious slice of irony for the organization's detractors—if a member of their financial watchdog committee was found guilty of money laundering.
Corruption amongst the ranks of FIFA officials is nothing new. In fact, it has arguably become a running joke amongst football fans, to the point that John Oliver took the organization to task on his HBO program, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, in June:
The Qatar World Cup, in particular, has cast FIFA in a poor light, namely over the treatment of the workers in the country as preparations for the event are underway.
In May, Ian Black, Owen Gibson and Robert Booth of The Guardian reported that the country was going to reform its controversial "kafala" working laws, which essentially "tethers workers to a single employer, who can therefore treat his workforce with impunity," though organizations such as Amnesty International feared the changes would be cosmetic in nature due to the mounting international pressure and wouldn't actually reform the system in place.
Then in late May, reports emerged that Mohamed Bin Hammam had bribes to several FIFA officials to garner support for Qatar's bid. And most recently, Western leaders have reportedly considered boycotting the 2018 World Cup in Russia due to the crisis in Ukraine and excluding the country from other "high-profile international cultural, economic or sporting events," according to Peter Spiegel and Christian Oliver of CNBC.com.
Suffice to say, FIFA and its president, Sepp Blatter—who is seeking reelection—could probably use a bit of positive press at the moment. The allegations against Watson are exactly the opposite. As FIFA continues to find itself fending off allegations of corruption, the development of this case in the Caymen Islands will be of particular intrigue.