Soccer (or “football” if you’re European) is the most popular sport in the world, known to many as “The Beautiful Game.”
Revered on multiple continents and gathering momentum in North America, it’s universally admired for its exemplary displays of teamwork, skill and endurance. But there’s a side to soccer that’s not so beautiful. The Treasury Department has added a Colombian soccer club to the OFAC SDN (Specially Designated National) list for something that may surprise you: money laundering.
The owner of the Envigado Futbol Club has had way more on his mind lately than his team’s goal-scoring record. He allegedly allowed a local crime gang to use the team’s balance sheet to conceal profits from drug trafficking, extortion and even murder-for-hire. And we get worked up about steroid scandals in sports.
Envigado is now blacklisted under the anti-crime Kingpin Act, which allows the U.S. to freeze the team’s assets and prohibits U.S. citizens from engaging in transactions with them. OFAC Director Adam Szubin said in a press release that the crime gang with whom Envigado partnered “has played a significant role in large scale drug trafficking and money laundering activities,” adding, “This action builds on our continued efforts to target the cartel from all angles.”
A soccer club being added to any government watch list may sound unusual, but actually, the OFAC SDN list has only been without the inclusion of a Colombian soccer team for less than a year. In the spring OFAC removed the America de Cali organization from the list after it had been there nearly 20 years for its ties to drug cartels. OFAC de-listed them along with hundreds of other parties that had finally, according to the Treasury, “stopped engaging in sanctionable activities.” Now Envigado has taken America de Cali’s place as the South American team least likely to be invited to play in a U.S. exhibition game.
As it turns out, Envigado notwithstanding, professional soccer has a pretty colorful history when it comes to illegal activity. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is as we speak conducting a corruption investigation into FIFA (Federation Internationale de Football Association) over match-fixing and money laundering allegations. In 2009 the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) published its comprehensive report “Money Laundering in the Football Sector”.
Who knew there was so much going on behind the scenes of professional soccer? For a sport considered a “way of life” in so many parts of the world, it’s discouraging to think of Envigado and those involved in FIFA misdeeds hurting the integrity of the game and impacting the futures of the talented youth that play it. It’s certainly not what The Beautiful Game was meant to be.