The clocks were striking six on Wednesday morning when agents from the Swiss Federal Office of Justice quietly entered the serene, marbled lobby of the Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich.
The officers were at the 171-year-old, five-star hotel to arrest six of the most powerful men in soccer. They were officials of FIFA, charged with the ultra-serious corruption crimes of racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering, as well as accepting hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes.
But despite the gravity of the accusations, the arrests went off with all the five-star subtly the Swiss police and hotel could muster.
There were no guns, no handcuffs, no shouting, no antique furniture of the hotel damaged.
Ushered through a subtle side-door, the execs were met by uniformed hotel workers, who held up a tunnel of sheets to protect them from the prying eyes of the press, before huddling into a hatchback Opel with blacked-out windows – no marked police car for soccer aristocracy.
The men were allowed to bring bags of personal items: Costa Rican soccer boss Eduardo Li carried a tote adorned with FIFA logos.
In fact, a New York Times journalist who reported from the scene said that “the entire sequence was so low-key that a guest in a room next door might easily have slept through the events.”
In short, the Swiss authorities allowed the FIFA officials, who have been compared to a mafia, a dignified, red-carpet entrance into detention.
Far Cry from the Arrests of Sometimes Innocent People in the US
But for the more than 30,000 people arrested daily in the United States, many of them entirely innocent, the experience is a far cry from the A-list treatment of the soccer crooks.
Yelling SWAT teams wearing bullet-proof vests and wielding automatic weapons are the norm for dawn raids, with doors kicked in and no chance to collect the smallest personal items.
Suspects are routinely handcuffed, sometimes so tight that a mark is left on the wrists, and bundled roughly in police vehicles.
And here, for some, can prove the most dangerous part: it has been claimed that Freddie Gray, a 25-year Black man from Baltimore, sustained a fatal neck injury when flung into the back of a police van with has hands tied together, and no seatbelt to keep him from being tossed about in the journey to the police station. The incident, now ruled a homicide, is far from unique.
The state of the detention facilities where the FIFA officials will be held and questioned, but it is sure to be more comfortable than the average U.S. holding cells, where inmates complain of cold, hunger, and police brutality. The Bureau of Justice Statistics found that between 2003 and 2009, 4,813 people “died during or shortly after law enforcement personnel attempted to arrest or restrain them.”
Possibly the most despised men in the sports world have been allowed the most luxurious, deferential treatment, while the several other FIFA execs wanted across the road a sure to pass through the process unscathed at the very least. The beautiful game has seldom looked uglier.