Red Card is the meeting of American investigative reporting and real-life cop show. Ken Bensinger of BuzzFeed tells the story of the FBI and Internal Revenue Service agents who caught many of Fifa’s criminals. In a curious coincidence, the FBI’s initial tipoff came from Christopher Steele, the former MI6 agent who in 2016 warned the FBI about purported collusion between Russia and Donald Trump’s campaign for the US presidency. Backers of England’s doomed bid to host the 2018 World Cup had hired Steele to collect intelligence on rival bids. He soon heard “troubling rumours” — including stories of officials offering paintings to Exco members in return for votes. Steele alerted an FBI agent in spring 2010, months before the US bid to host in 2022 was defeated. That belies Blatter’s later claim that the US went after Fifa out of pique. Rather, those were the days when the US still tried to uphold a rules-based international order.
Red Card, an account of the downfall of Fifa, reads like an FBI thriller — because that is exactly what it is. The levels of greed Ken Bensinger details are absurd.
A fundamental problem with many white-collar-crime dramas is the often technical and unintuitive nature of the underlying misconduct. Collusion and insider trading, for example, can be illegal under surprisingly narrow circumstances. Luckily for both Mr. Bensinger and the reader, the FIFA scandal involved old-fashioned and highly intuitive vote buying, bribery, payoffs and kickbacks on a breathtaking scale. Such corruption makes for a particularly gripping narrative.