Imagine you’re a corporate executive whose company had forked-out a six figure sum to see a semi-final or final of the World Cup in Brazil, and you turn up at Rio de Janeiro Airport to be told ‘Sorry, your tickets have been seized and you can’t go.’
This is the fate that awaits clients of four companies that allegedly on-sold corporate hospitality packages emanating from FIFA’s long-time corporate hospitality provider and ticketing agent, Match Hospitality, that is at the centre of Brazilian police investigations into a possible corporate ticketing scandal.
The company issued a statement on Monday that it will “continue to investigate and cooperate” with Brazilian police.
If the company name ‘Match Hospitality’ sounds familiar, there’s good reason for it. They have been in and around FIFA for a long time – something that British journalist and author, Andrew Jennings, chronicles in his latest book, Omerta.
Five years ago in Zurich, one of the co-directors of Match and one half of the brothers who founded the company, Enrique Byrom, told me that Match do their job so well that they had had been providing services to FIFA seamlessly for 28 years.
That’s the same time Sepp Blatter has been in charge of FIFA – first as General Secretary from 1981 and then as President from 1998.
But the Blatter family connection doesn’t end with the FIFA President.
Blatter’s nephew, Philippe, is a director of Match Hospitality. He’s also the President and CEO of Infront Sports & Media which holds host broadcasting rights to the FIFA World Cup and has a 5% share in Match Hospitality. Infront took over the rights from ISL – the former TV and marketing rights holder of FIFA that was found by a Swiss court to have paid around $100 million in bribes to FIFA officials over a number of years.
Both Sepp and Philippe – along with several other FIFA Executive Committee members – might be feeling a little queasy in their suites at the luxury Copacabana Palace Hotel in Rio with the news that one of their own, Ray Whelan, was arrested by Brazilian police.
Knowing that the world is watching, it is unlikely that the Brazilian police would have arrested Whelan without solid evidence or without the go-ahead from people up-the-line. Sources suggest that the police have had FIFA ticketing operations in their sights for months and their evidence includes almost 1,000 recorded telephone calls.
Unlike the other 11 people who had been arrested by the Brazilian police in recent days, Whelan is no ordinary employee. Amongst the FIFA cognoscenti, he is considered as the ‘third brother’ in the Byrom family and is the long-time partner of Jaime and Enrique’s sister, Ivy.
In other words, Ray Whelan knows everything that there is to know – assuming there is something to know.
Faced with the risk of languishing in a Brazilian prison for a decade or so, or cooperating with authorities, Ray Whelan – who once worked with Tony Blair to assist Gaddafi to prepare a bid to host the World Cup – could well be the unlikely person who brings the Blatter era to an end.
In the meantime, let’s hope those corporate executives arriving to watch the semi-finals and final don’t mind watching the games on television from their hotel room. At least they’ll have the Taittinger to drink.
Right now, that’s the best that Match Hospitality may have to offer.