Fifa crisis: Why corruption scandal is sport's biggest ever

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Fifa corruption crisis explained

If we are honest, until now America's relationship with the beautiful game has been a bit "meh".

It started well when a Bert Patenaude hat-trick helped the US to third place at the 1930 World Cup - and the likes of the New York Cosmos,Alexi Lalas and Tim Howard have all tried to breathe some passion into proceedings over the years - but it has all been a bit Jozy Altidore at Sunderland and Diana Ross's opening-ceremony penalty miss ever since.

Lots of endeavour and enthusiasm, just not much in the way of end product - a major-league problem when all of football's rivals for the attention of US sports fans offer almost endless end product.

It seemed, to this outsider at least, that US soccer needed a game-changer. Somebody with genuine cross-over appeal, somebody who could kick down doors, somebody who could get bleary-eyed football officials out of bed in Zurich and, but for the tricky business of extradition, whisk them straight through check-in all the way to Department of Justice interview rooms in Washington DC before they had time to digest last night's five-course extravaganza, somebody who could get soccer as the first item on ESPN SportsCenter.

It needed US Attorney General Loretta Lynch.

But here is the thing. The game in America did not need the 56-year-old lawyer as much as the rest of the global game needed her, and for that football fans everywhere should salute her, raise a glass to the side that insists on calling itself the US Men's National Team and fondly remember Altidore for his ability to defend the near post at corners and "run the channels". This is truly America's day.

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Attorney General Loretta Lynch said that Fifa executives and others used bribes to influence the decision to hold the World Cup in South Africa

How long have we in the Mother Country been moaning about crooks and fraudsters dragging football's reputation through the gutter?

How many books have been written and TV programmes made about the millions of dinars and dollars that have been siphoned off football development projects in the world's poorest countries to pay for parties, palaces and privilege?

Too long and too many.

Just as the New World likes to think, with some justification, that it baled the Old World out of a couple of big problems in the last century, there is a strong feeling that the US cavalry has come galloping to the rescue again.

Some will say the crimes the Feds have been quietly, diligently, systematically investigating for the past few years involve individuals and companies from North, South and Central America, using US banks and currency, and that is why American law enforcement has taken the lead in lancing an apparent boil on world football's backside.

But that misses the point.

The Concacaf operation run by the disgraced Chuck Blazer - who has already admitted to corrupt practices - and Jack Warner, who has twice resigned over bribery allegations, was not some rogue outpost of an otherwise spotless corporate giant: it was a case study of what - judging by the details of the US Department of Justice claims - has been allowed to happen around the globe, a symptom of a debilitating disease and quite frankly the most obvious place to start the round-up for US lawmen.

The good news is America's very welcome interest in sorting out world football's apparent ills appears to be contagious, as the Swiss authorities have also been stung into action.

The fact the Swiss seem to be cutting straight to the matter that most concerns football fans, where the next two World Cups will be played, is to be encouraged, but my money is still on the guys in FBI rain jackets bringing everything to a head first.

It is easy to reach for Mafia metaphors when talking about Fifa: easy because they are so apt - the powerful, well-connected family, seemingly untouchable to outside influence (until now, of course). And for clues as to how this is likely to play out, you are better off re-watching what happened to the Lucchese crime family in Goodfellas than looking at previous scandals from sport.

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Lineker calls for Fifa 'boycott'

The Feds have followed the money, collared a few foot-soldiers, got them to squeal on their bosses, they have then shown those bosses how horrible US prisons can be and those bosses have squealed on their bosses.

Lynch and her deputies have not landed their Paulie Cicero yet, but this is not over, not by a long shot.

Neither are those other certainties that have been repeated by Fifa so often in recent months and years that they become doctrines of faith: the president is still the president, the Fifa family is a happy family, there will be no World Cup re-votes.

The most recent incantation of these beliefs was given by Fifa spin doctor Walter de Gregorio in a display of comic indignation in Zurich on Wednesday morning. The only thing missing from his expert impression of Captain Louis Renault's memorable shock that gambling occurred at Rick's place in Casablanca was a waiter appearing from the wings to give him his winnings.

At that stage it still looked like the sensible man would put those winnings on Fifa president Sepp Blatter being re-elected in a landslide vote on Friday.

The day has got considerably darker for the weary De Gregorio and his relaxed-but-not-dancing boss Blatter. Calls to postpone the vote have got louder as the odds on a Blatter coronation have shrunk and Qatar's stock exchange has sunk.

Talk about contrasting emotions, up in Cumbria, veteran Blatter-botherer and early adopter of the Fifa-as-farce fad Andrew Jennings was having the time of his life.

A 10-minute call to his landline was interrupted five times by his mobile ringing with interview requests.

"This is very, very pleasing," said Jennings, whose work for the BBC's Panorama programme did more than most to start the ball rolling that crashed into the Baur au Lac's lobby on Wednesday.

"It's taken years and years, but we've finally got there. It's over for Blatter and they're going to have to reallocate those World Cups.

"They haven't even got time for a re-vote on 2018, and do the Russians still want it? Can they afford the expense and all the hassle that will come with it?"

Jennings might be wrong, of course. Taking a World Cup away from one recognised host nation, let alone two, would be a move of seismic proportions, unprecedented in sport's history, but for the first time since those decisions were announced in 2010 it actually sounds possible.

That is what sets this apart from the litany of previous sporting scandals.

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Sure, Lance Armstrong's downfall had a Shakespearean quality, exotic locations and a good-looking cast, but it was a downfall long foretold and lacked any sense of closure.

It was also cycling, and how many times had cycling been told it had a drugs problem that it badly needed to sort out?

Likewise athletics and its numerous self-inflicted wounds: Ben Johnson, Marion Jones, Justin Gatlin, Russia…it is a death by a thousand cheats.

US sport has had its fair share from thrown World Series, to college players on salaries, to a golfing megastar caught misbehaving in the long grass.

America even provided the stage for perhaps the closest comparison we have to the Fifa fiasco; Salt Lake City's successful purchase of the right to host the 2002 Winter Olympics, a bribery bonanza that persuaded the International Olympic Committee to clean out its stables just as Fifa appeared to be stoking up the gravy train.

But, with all respect, that was just a fortnight of slipping and sliding.

Can you imagine the impact of the world's most popular sport being taken away from those who have brought it into such depressing disrepute?

It would be...beautiful.