Red Card Author Ken Bensinger Visits Portland to Discuss FIFA, US Imperialism and Why the Future of Football is Positive
August 2, 2018 - Portland (Soccer City), USA
Toffee Club Guest Writer Peter Erdahl reviews Ken Bensinger's Red Card book presentation.
As the sun began to set over the rolling hills along the Willamette River, I stepped inside Powell’s Books on Hawthorne Boulevard. I made my way to the backend of the store, curious as to how the night’s proceedings would unfold. Rather than a reading, I was hoping for a dialogue with Ken Bensinger - I had questions, as I surmised many of the audience did as well, and I wanted answers. My first thought...
With a history of colonialization and track record of “overreaching” into its neighboring country’s affairs, why is it that the United States, a country in which football has yet to catch hold, blew the whistle on the world’s most beloved game?
I had another, more pressing question, one that tied back directly to the most recent corruption scandal facing Perú: Being that corruption and football are so intricately intertwined, how can you have one without the other?
The evening did not disappoint.
I took my seat amongst the crowd and listened intently as Todd Diskin of Booked! The Timbers Army Library and Literary Outreach Project, made his introduction.
Todd Diskin: How did we get to this place where the United States is the one that unlocks this huge FIFA corruption?
Ken Bensinger: The role soccer has in many countries is something much beyond sports. First of all you have to understand that in most of these countries while other sports exist, there really is only soccer. If you took the four American most popular sports: football, basketball, baseball and hockey - and squashed it into one thing, that would be the cultural importance of it as a sporting interest.
But it goes beyond that because there is so much specific gravity around this one thing, it shoots tentacles into politics, economics and all kinds of realms that have absolutely nothing to do with what happens on the field. It’s not an accident that in some countries, high ranking politicians got their start in soccer. The current president of Argentina, the president of the whole country, got their start as president of the most popular soccer club. The president of Honduras, after he was done being the president of the country, ran their soccer federation.
In this country, where some of us may be really passionate about the sport, on a national level it doesn’t have that kind of influence. Truly no one was there to stand in the way of prosecutors who wanted to build a case like this. The fact that it’s the fourth or fifth sport in this country gave it the political coverage for people to do a case provided there was a case they wanted to do. And that is where the FBI and ultimately the arrests come in along with the DOJ.
Here, Bensinger brings up a pivotal point. As football is yet to make its presence felt in the United States society, culture, politics and economics as it has in other countries around the world, the US is at a distinct advantage.
Who would have thought that my frustration growing up seeing this country’s lack of footballing passion in the United States would ultimately aid in the apprehension of some of the most notoriously corrupt FIFA officials? Not I - mind blown.
But then why hasn’t more been done? And how do we solve this systemic issue?
Ken Bensinger: A lot of people ask me if it’s better now - is all forgiven and is the problem solved? Each successive generation who reach into the sport is another generation of people who are corrupt or ready to be corrupt and expect it’s their birthright, so to speak, to get more money out of the game.
What this criminal case did is it sort of carved out the tumor. It’s as if the sport has a cancer of corruption and I can believe the sport itself is pure and beautiful and it has been occupied by these awful forces. So the first step is to cut out the material that is beyond hope but to really push this metaphor, if you think about the ways to make someone who’s sick with cancer better, it isn’t just to surgically remove the tumor, there is a lot of other stuff you have to do and it’s a long process.
Soccer needs to embrace transparency the way it doesn’t want to do and still doesn’t want to do.
I think the sport is not cured, I think there is a pathway but it’s going to take a long time. It’s going to take people who are willing to be involved in the sport because they love it, not because they want to get rich.
As I sat and listened on Bensinger’s analysis of the current state of corruption and football, I could not help but feel positive. This chain of events proved that those who once operated with impunity could still be caught and brought to justice. This positive feeling was compounded a few days later as I read through the news coming out of Perú. The amount of public outrage, disgust and coverage the Edwin Ovideo case has sparked in Perú was immense. Though the situation in Perú is still ongoing, it is a positive step forward to see the visceral public reaction to the alleged corruption in the wake of the 2015 FIFA corruption scandal. While there is still a long journey ahead of us to completely eradicate corruption from the sport, at least we have taken the first step.
- Peter Erdahl is a writer and photographer focused on highlighting football throughout Latin America. Peter is a native of Lima, Perú currently based out of Soccer City, USA. (Portland, Oregon)
Peter wrote our La Blanquirroja! Toffee Club Friend Peter Erdahl Talks About his Love for the Peruvian National Team piece for the World Cup.