Federal investigators are looking into whether Nike made illegal or unethical payments around a 1996 deal that boosted the multinational sports company's place in the soccer merchandise world. The probe into the 1996 deal with Brazil is part of the massive indictment last month of FIFA officials for participating in bribery and kickback schemes.
In the 191-page indictment, Nike’s name was not mentioned once, but the Wall Street Journal is reporting that a company discussed in the indictment that may have acted unethically while pursuing a large contract was Nike. Unnamed sources confirmed the Journal’s suspicion.
The probe seems to indicate that Nike, while trying to buy the rights for the Brazilian national soccer team, made questionable payments to an outside group. The suspicions aren’t completely new, either. An audit by the Brazilian Federal Accounting Office noticed anomalies in some payments about 15 years ago.
The deal with the Brazilian national team reportedly shot Nike into a position as a top company in soccer apparel. Beforehand, Nike barely knew Brazil and barely knew the sport.
The probe into Nike comes as part of a huge indictment that has rocked the soccer world and led to the arrest of many FIFA officials. The justice department indictments immediately led to 14 officials getting locked up, including two vice presidents. FIFA President Sepp Blatter was forced to step down from his post soon after he was re-elected following the indictments.
“The indictment alleges corruption that is rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted both abroad and here in the United States,” U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a statement at the time. “It spans at least two generations of soccer officials who, as alleged, have abused their positions of trust to acquire millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks. … Today’s action makes clear that this Department of Justice intends to end any such corrupt practices, to root out misconduct, and to bring wrongdoers to justice.”
The reaction has been widespread and varied. Soccer fans seemed unsurprised. Other groups, like Interpol, ditched sponsorship money coming from the soccer regulator.