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March 13, 2012

Analysis: The delay game: How FIFA will react to pressure for transparency

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 An interesting report came out of the Council of Europe last week. The Council’s Committee on Culture, Science, Education and Media, chaired by Gvozden Flego of Croatia, has been inquiring into governance and ethics in sport and, of course, there can be no discussion on these issues on the world sporting stage without mention of FIFA, world football’s governing body.

The Committee’s draft report, put together by Francois Rochebloine of France, and its draft resolution , will go to the full Council next month. Their umbrella recommendation is that FIFA “take the necessary steps to cast full light on the facts underlying the various scandals which have tarnished its image and that of international football” – something for which many people have been advocating  for some time

Amongst other things, the report wants FIFA to:

 

  1. speed up the process of reform;
  2. publish in full any judicial and other documents related to the ISL case; and
  3. open an investigation into the campaign for the FIFA Presidency last year.

 

It is worth looking at each of these issues in depth.

 Reform process

In October last year, following broad-based derision and criticism, FIFA President Sepp Blatter reported on progress in reforming the organisation under his tarnished tenure. Blatter announced the establishment of four Task Forces to report on possible changes to Statutes, a revision of the Code of Ethics, a compliance program and governance with an eminent international anti-corruption academic, Professor Mark Pieth to chair the Independent Governance Committee. Blatter set a quite leisurely timetable of reform by 2013 but Pieth is said to be more impatient for change and is due to provide an interim report to the FIFA Executive Committee next month.

The Executive Committee’s reaction to Pieth’s interim report will be a good indicator both of how genuine and capable FIFA is in reforming itself.

 The ISL case

 ISL is the company that had the marketing and broadcasting rights to FIFA tournaments (and other world sporting events) until it spectacularly went belly-up in 2001.

The case has been a thorn in FIFA’s side since 2006 when award winning British investigative reporter, Andrew Jennings  published ‘Foul’, a book which sets out the modus operandi of many at the top echelons of international football. The evidence Jennings compiled suggested that ISL paid around $US100 million in bribes to senior officials of FIFA and other international sports as the competition for TV rights accelerated.  According to Jennings, Blatter took extraordinary steps to ensure ISL was favoured over IMG when the TV rights were up for grabs in the mid 1990s. Jennings went further in a BBC ‘Panorama’ report in November 2010 (a few days prior to the World Cup vote), broadcasting documentary evidence of the bribe payments. One of those allegedly in receipt of those payments was the former FIFA President, Joao Havelange.  At the time, Havelange was also a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), was FIFA President for the 24 years immediately prior to Blatter and remains Honorary President of FIFA.

 Neither Jennings nor the BBC have ever been challenged in the courts despite FIFA’s deep pockets.

 The day after the ‘Panorama’ broadcast last year, the IOC Ethics Committee contacted the BBC and asked to see its evidence. One year later, in December 2011, following investigation by the IOC Ethics Committee, Havelange resigned from the IOC prior to the Ethics Committee findings being handed down.  The FIFA Ethics Committee has never taken action and Havelange maintains his position with FIFA.

 In 2008, Judge Siegwart of the Zug court in Switzerland confirmed during the trial of six ISL executives that the total amount of bribes paid between 1989 and 2001 was around $100 million and also identified a fourth FIFA Executive Committee (ExCo) member as a recipient of payments.  The FIFA Ethics Committee has not ever chased up this evidence either. 

FIFA was ordered by the Zug Court to release these documents a few years ago in the public interest. Under pressure in recent months, FIFA has engaged in a faux ‘will he-won’t he’ dance into the release of the ISL documents – which they again stated in their response on Friday to the Council of Europe report. But while they do this in public, they are also continuing to spend FIFA money suppressing the publication of the documents through the Swiss courts.

This leads us to why the Council of Europe draft resolution is important.

Having heard from Jennings on the ISL case, the Committee contacted the Zug public prosecutor who has been inquiring into FIFA corruption, Thomas Hildbrand, and the Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs who agreed for the Committee to be briefed on Hildbrand’s findings and for the documentation to be made available to them.

The fact that this happened, and the Committee has made the recommendation it has, is instructive of the seriousness with which the ISL affair is held. It is not, as one Australian commentator put it in 2010, the work of a “discredited moron” in referring to Jennings.

 

The FIFA Presidential campaign

The draft resolution in relation to the FIFA Presidential campaign will fall on deaf ears at FIFA House inZurich: they have already indicated as such in their response on Friday. The Committee wants FIFA to open an internal investigation into “whether, and to what extent, the candidates, and particularly the successful candidate, exploited their institutional positions to obtain unfair advantages for themselves or for potential voters.”

Of course, by the time it came to the vote for the FIFA President on 1 June 2011, there was only one candidate left standing.

Blatter’s rival, Mohamed Bin Hammam of Qatar and then President of the Asian Football Confederation to which Australia belongs, withdrew from the race a few days before the vote. He was later banned for life from all football activity due to the alleged payment of bribes to football officials representing 25 Caribbean member associations.

 Bin Hammam is appealing this decision which will be heard by the Court of Arbitration for Sport. His co-accused, Jack Warner, former President of the football region covering North and Central America and the Caribbean (known as CONCACAF), resigned from all football positions before he was scheduled to appear before the FIFA Ethics Committee. 

Warner’s resignation was a big event in world football.  Widely duchessed by the Australian World Cup bid team for two years of bid lobbying, and a longstanding close friend of Peter Hargitay, one of Australia’s international consultants for the Bid, Warner was seen as one of the most powerful men in world football and had been on the FIFA ExCo for 28 years. It is no surprise that both Bin Hammam and Blatter were dancing around him in relation to their Presidential bids.

Neither Bin Hammam nor his legal team have said much for obvious reasons, other than that Bin Hammam met travel, accommodation and administrative costs, which is not uncommon for an otherwise unscheduled meeting. But, if the evidence of the proverbial brown paper envelopes being stuffed with up to $40,000 cash is proven, then it is likely that Bin Hammam’s lawyers will build an argument around the $1m payment being for ‘development’ purposes. In the FIFA world, this is a common and acceptable means – albeit, open to ambiguity as it was in the World Cup bidding process – of redistributing wealth amongst FIFA’s 208 member associations.

However, in the final days prior to the June Presidential election, Blatter also appeared before the FIFA Ethics Committee which was investigating a counter-claim by Bin Hammam that Blatter knew about the meeting in the Caribbean, as well as the proposed alleged cash payments to delegates prior to the meeting taking place as Warner had told him. Under the FIFA Code of Ethics, officials are required to report any breaches of ethics but Blatter failed either to report it or to take action to prevent it. The Ethics Committee ruled there was no case to answer.

But what has not been scrutinised is Blatter’s own financial largesse – using FIFA money – during the election campaign in which, according to Warner, he announced a $1m grant also to the CONCACAF region. According to Warner, the grant “annoyed” Michel Platini (another Executive Committee member) who complained that “Mr Blatter had no permission from the finance committee to make this gift.”

Taken together with Andrew Jennings’ evidence from the Zurich Commercial Registry that Blatter has had sole signatory power over FIFA funds for two decades, the Committee’s recommendation, therefore, is not surprising.

 And Australia?

While FIFA and Blatter are likely to keep fighting the Swiss court system and ignoring the 47 European governments represented by the Council of Europe until they exhaust all possible avenues, the leitmotif of Blatter’s 31 year reign at FIFA (including 14 years as President) has been enormous commercial success tarnished by tawdriness and corruption allegations.

The disappointing aspect of this is that, having participated in a World Cup Bid process that some knew was flawed from early on – and which even FFA CEO Ben Buckley eventually admitted – when given the opportunity to take a values-based stand against FIFA, Blatter, the rest of the ExCo and their  way of doing business, FFA did not do so.

In March last year, FFA declined the opportunity to nominate a third, ‘cleanskin’ candidate for FIFA President – former Chilean playing great, Elias Figueroa. A few months later, when England, Norway, Denmark, Scotland and 13 other member associations sought a delay to the FIFA Presidential election campaign, Buckley said it would be “an empty gesture” not to support Blatter as FFA could “play a role in the reform process”. There has been no indication yet what this is.

FFA is not alone in turning a blind eye to FIFA corruption and lack of transparency. After all, there are 191 other member associations who voted the same way – but they are not our football association representing our country in a major world sport. 

History judges individuals and organisations by their actions. FFA is no exception.

 


The Council of Europe has 47 member countries and was established in 1949 to promote democracy and protect human rights and the rule of law throughout Europe. A country cannot join the European Union unless it has first been accepted by, and contributed to, the Council of Europe.  It is a deliberative body comprised of nominees of each of the 47 member governments, and is currently chaired by the UK Foreign Secretary, William Hague.

 Image: Reuters


  • Phil T

    Yep, blame it all on FIFA and FFA, Bonita. It saves saying aloud that beneath all the claptrap about soccer fighting the good fight against obesity and diabetes and constantly putting its hand out for government money, football from under-9s upward is a business entirely focused on making as much money as quickly as possible, regardless of what that means for the players, the club or the sport.

    Just head on down to your local club, tell us how it really works and how much it costs and then ask yourself again if FIFA is unrepresentative or atypical of football values.

    So what does it really cost? And why do you think that soccer club and the game in general is so averse to publicising what it really costs or telling you where the money really goes?

    That’s right. In reality, FIFA is a perfect representation of the tawdry values (money, money, lies and more money) that dominate football right down to its bootlaces.

    And exactly how would reforming FIFA purify that cesspool of corruption that the lowlier football club bathes in?

    It wouldn’t. When Horst Dassler teamed up with Havelange forty years ago to corrupt FIFA, the game was as much a basket case of lies and corruption as now, the only difference being that there is more money at stake now. Cleaning up FIFA or dressing it up in pink or burning its HQ down won’t have any impact for better or worse on what goes on beneath it.

    For those genuinely concerned about corruption in football, the best they can do for the game is to head down to their local soccer club and ensure that it’s not part of the problem by fiddling the books and telling porkies to one and all about where the money goes. That at least would be a step in the right direction.

    But the message we always get, and its a very convenient one from a game that beneath all the grizzling about FIFA doesn’t really want to change its ways, that FIFA has to be changed before anything else can be changed.

    It’s nonsense, of course. If the will were there, the game could just as effectively be cleaned up from the bottom upwards as the top down.

    Obviously the will is not there or it would have happened already, and its not there for a very good reason. Insiders often have their fingers in the till and they like it just the way it is.

    Blaming FIFA for the corruption is smokescreen alright; a classic case of thinking global but not having the inclination or wherewithal to act local.

  • Bonita Mersiades

    Thanks for your interest Phil.

    The Council of Europe report was only looking at FIFA. Sorting out good governance at the local level doesn’t address the issues that need to be addressed in terms of governance, accountability and transparency at the national and international levels, but neither does one preclude the other.

    If you think there is an issue at your local club (which appears to be so based on your comment), then you should pursue it as you see necessary.

  • JackAtwell

    Another very interesting, insightful and well argued piece.

    What will the new FA mean for what is going on at FFA? Unless Frank Lowy puts his hand in his pocket, all Palmer needs to do is bleed them dry, throw in a cool $100 million or so and Frank can see his football legacy go down the drain. It will serve him right for his stubbornness, meanness and his failure to see that his CEO is beyond his level of competence.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1079792496 Dylan Noronha

    Awesome comment Phil. I agree with most of what you said.
    And do the members of FIFA and stakeholders really want it cleaned up. “Cleaning it up” will mean the lose of ‘bribe’ money to many powerful people.



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