Loretta Lynch’s Golden Blazer—An Example of How (S)heroes Wear Suits
This year’s Annual Dinner keynote speaker, former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, is an iconic woman who has been the “first” in many roles, breaking ground for others to follow her towards a more equitable future. Lawyers Club members are likely aware that Lynch was the first black woman to become Attorney General of the United States. Perhaps a lesser-known achievement is that Lynch was the first woman to be awarded the Golden Blazer. The Golden Blazer is an honor given to the American who has done the most to grow the sport of soccer, and Lynch was given this award because of her work as a prosecutor.
To start with the basics, FIFA, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, is comprised of about 209 member associations and is responsible for regulating soccer worldwide. FIFA’s mission “is to promote the game of football [soccer], protect its integrity and bring the game to all.” FIFA is subdivided into six continental confederations that govern on a regional level, including CONCACAF—the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football.
One of the primary means through which FIFA and its affiliates raise revenue is licensing commercial, media, and marketing rights for events and tournaments. For example, FIFA and CONCACAF—who own the commercial rights to the World Cup and Gold Cup—sell their rights to sports marketing companies through multi-year contracts covering multiple tournaments. The sports marketing companies in turn sell the rights to TV and radio broadcast networks, corporate sponsors, and others who want to broadcast the matches or promote their brands. Generally, the revenue generated from these contracts is substantial, and “according to FIFA, 70% of its $5.7 billion in total revenues between 2011 and 2014 was attributable to the sale of TV and marketing rights to the 2014 World Cup.” Only, as Lynch and her team discovered, not all of these dealings were above-board.
As early as 1991, certain FIFA officials would leverage their power to broker commercial rights over various soccer events to sports media and marketing company executives, businesspersons, and bankers in exchange for bribes and kickbacks. As U.S. Attorney of the Eastern District of New York, Lynch supervised the investigation of FIFA that culminated in charges alleging that FIFA officials and business executives received well over $150 million in bribes and kickbacks.
On May 27, 2015, the newly appointed U.S. Attorney General Lynch announced charges against 14 defendants for racketeering, wire fraud, and money-laundering conspiracies, carried out over the course of “a 24-year scheme to enrich themselves through the corruption of international soccer.” Among the high-ranking officials charged were two FIFA vice presidents and seven other FIFA executives, as well as four individual and corporate defendants. Lynch described the scandal as a “rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted” scheme that “span[ed] at least two generations of soccer officials who . . . abused their positions of trust to acquire millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks.” As a result of her work, Lynch was dubbed the “FIFA Slayer” for eradicating the notorious profiteering plot carried out by FIFA officials.
The qualities that led Lynch to be awarded the Golden Blazer exemplify why Lawyers Club is honored to recognize her with the 2018 Icon Award, which is given to honor those who have made meritorious contributions to society throughout their lives, and who share Lawyers Club’s values of justice, inclusion and progress. Lynch’s dedication to combating injustice while paving the way for the women who follow in her footsteps exemplifies Lawyers Club’s mission to advance the status of women in the law and society. Lawyers Club is thrilled to have Lynch as this year’s Annual Dinner Speaker on June 7, 2018, and we look forward the opportunity to hear more from Lynch about her impressive career.
Jessica Gross, Esq. wrote this for Lawyers Club’s Annual Dinner Committee and has been actively involved in Lawyers Club for several years.