FIFA investigation farce further highlights the need for change

Former Us Attorney Michael Garcia was hired by FIFA to lead the investigation. He has since criticised the findings that were released in a summary as "erroneous".

Back in June 2011, The Blog FC’s Mark Houston wrote a piece on the state of football’s global governing body amidst accusations of corruption regarding the processes of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids. Using information from British investigative journalist Andrew Jennings and speaking with SBS Chief Football Analyst Craig Foster, a poor picture was painted of FIFA. Sadly, years on, the same questions are being asked and nothing seems to have changed, as Michael Garcia’s report into the process has been “misused” by the governing body, who have since cleared themselves of any wrongdoing.

Mark’s original piece is pubilshed below, along with updates and comment on the current situation regarding the 2018 and 2022 bidding process, and the fallout from the Garcia Report.

“FIFA is institutionally corrupt,” says British investigative journalist Andrew Jennings on the ABC’s Lateline programme. “It should be closed down following a conference of intergovernmental sports ministers – similar to the meetings which changed the International Olympic Committee in 1999”.

Since the vote and election of the host nations of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup – won controversially by Russia and Qatar respectively – FIFA has been engulfed in allegations of scandal and corruption. Just one week out from its presidential elections, senior members Jack Warner (FIFA vice-president and head of the CONCACAF federation) and Mohammed bin Hammam (chief of Asian Football Confederation) were both suspended indefinitely from all football-related activities pending an independent inquiry at FIFA’s office in Zurich, Switzerland (which resulted in both individuals being banned for life, though Warner resigned before his ban had been handed down). Both had been accused of offering bribes of US$40,000 to each of the members of the CONCACAF federation in exchange for votes.

Further, bin Hammam was the only candidate standing against long-serving president Sepp Blatter.

Former AFC President Mohammed Bin Hammam is alleged to have been a key player in Qatar's successful 2022 bid.
Former AFC President Mohammed Bin Hammam is alleged to have been a key player in Qatar’s successful 2022 bid.

Both were temporarily replaced as heads of their respective confederations until the official inquiry was undertaken in July the following year, but with such figures of FIFA’s executive committee at the forefront of such controversy many believed it was time for a complete overhaul and restructuring of football’s global governing body.

“It’s a storm of the magnitude they haven’t had for some time,” says SBS football expert and former Socceroo, Craig Foster. “Unfortunately, it usually takes a sequence of events to come to the understanding [that they need reform]. It’s only when people start getting caught that the public wheel turns around and people say ‘well it’s clear they need reform now’.”

Despite the controversies emerging in the days leading up to the election and pressure from national federations to postpone the vote, FIFA decided against any postponement and Sepp Blatter was re-elected uncontested amassing 186 of the 203 total votes. The English FA’s call for postponement had been shot down after only 17 delegates voted in favour for the election to be put on hold; 172 voted the other way.

“Whenever one candidate, and virtually a-third-to-half of the board, is under either investigation, suspension or suspicion, clearly that is not an environment conducive to an open, transparent or even a fair election process,” continues Foster, firmly believing the election should never have taken place. “Given all of the wide issues around the governing of FIFA at the time, it was never proper to undertake a presidential election. All of those things should have been investigated before, because no one knew at that time – or knows in the future – whether either of the candidates was actually implicitly involved in any of the issues under investigation.”

The fact that only 17 abstained from voting for Blatter is an issue unsurprising to Foster.

“The system and structure of FIFA does not do enough to deter, detect or discourage corruption,” Foster muses. “The system discourages dissent. There are huge amounts of money involved and the level of politics is extraordinarily complex. It produces a sort of ecosystem where everyone feeds off everyone else. To dissent on any major issue risks ex-communication including financially – FIFA can use the grant process to gain and maintain support irrespective of what happens. It’s not surprising only a small number abstained from the vote, in fact I’m surprised that as many as 17 did.”

It is this system that so many believe needs to be changed, particularly Jennings who supports a worldwide governmental intervention – much like the IOC reform that took place after the Salt Lake City scandal.

“We have started to move very slowly, very late in the day, but at least in the British Parliament things are now happening,” says Jennings, referring to MP Damian Collins’ FIFA reform campaign.

Collins has begun working with the Change FIFA organisation and has called on all national governments and sports ministers to apply pressure for an independent reform of FIFA. In the guidelines Collins has set out, the principles of independent scrutiny, democratic decision-making, open and public governance, shared power and transparent finances must be installed.

And Foster agrees too. “Collins’ approach [is] the right one. I would have liked to see many more governments support Damian Collins, including ours.”

At time of writing (in 2011), there is only official support for Collins’ movement from a handful of British and European politicians and one Australian senator.

Further adding to the corruption storm, The German FA have urged FIFA to open an inquiry into the results of the 2022 World Cup bid won by Qatar following a leaked email from FIFA Executive Secretary Jerome Valcke.

In the email, which Valcke has since confirmed was authentic, he states that Qatar representative Mohammad bin Hammam “bought” the 2022 World Cup, and implied he may have been trying the same approach to gain the FIFA presidency.

It still remains to be seen whether FIFA will review the bid process regardless of whether or not bin Hammam is found guilty of unethical behaviour next month, however Foster believes it is an extremely unlikely scenario.

“Any re-vote is extremely unlikely considering the politics of FIFA, it’s just too harmful to all of the executive-committee. It’s predictable that federations within football, and that includes Australia, are reluctant to be seen in any way negative or running contrary to FIFA,” he admits disappointingly.

Despite murmurs of a re-vote, Foster believes the most important action to be taken right now is exploring the best way to ensure a shake-up can take place and restore FIFA as an ethical and stable body. And like Jennings, Collins and others, Foster’s views are that official intervention and pressure is necessary.

“It’s going to take external pressure being brought on FIFA whether through their sponsors or through governments in order to finally and fundamentally reform them.”

Fast forward to the present day, November 2014, and it all sounds depressingly familiar. In fact, as Foster stated above regarding running contrary to FIFA, the recent inquiry into the bidding process for 2018 and 2022 has blasted both the English and Australian bids – coincidentally two of the most vocal in their opposition to the process, and two of the most cooperative – but cleared Russia and Qatar of any wrongdoing and attempted to draw a line under the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding.

Michael Garcia, former US Attorney and the FIFA-appointed lawyer who investigated the World Cup bidding process, provided his report to the organisation this month, and FIFA released their results last week. Garcia’s 350-page document was summarised to 43 pages and presented by Hans-Joachim Eckert, Chairman of FIFA’s self-appointed ethics committee. Surprisingly though, Garcia has launched an attack on the summary which FIFA announced provided “closure” on the matter, claiming it to contain “numerous materially incomplete and erroneous representations of the facts and conclusions detailed in the investigative chamber’s report”, while also announcing that he intends to appeal the decision.

Former Us Attorney Michael Garcia was hired by FIFA to lead the investigation. He has since criticised the findings that were released in a summary as "erroneous".
Former Us Attorney Michael Garcia was hired by FIFA to lead the investigation. He has since criticised the findings that were released in a summary as “erroneous”.

That’s right, Garcia is appealing a decision reached by FIFA based on his own investigation. This alone is perhaps the most accurate representation of football’s highest power, an organisation so comfortable with doing things its own way and ignoring ethical responsibilities; often appointing its own “independent” committees so it, essentially, investigates itself. The most recent controversy surrounding an issue that has been bubbling away for several years now seems to be reaching breaking point, and voices around the world are getting louder in objecting to how the organisation is run.

“FIFA looks at itself and nods in approval” was the headline the New York Times went with.

While there are certainly criticisms to be made on how both Australia and England acted throughout the campaign process, it is interesting that the two of the most transparent with their evidence during the investigation process are the ones who have come under the most scrutiny in Eckert’s summary, more or less giving the idea that if you play dumb you’ll be free of criticism; meanwhile you are punished for cooperating.

Russia have claimed that the computers used for the vote were only “on loan” and have since gone missing or been destroyed, meaning there is no review of communication between the bidding parties or any records of financial transactions. Qatar were supposedly in a similar boat in regards to providing evidence, with plenty conveniently disappearing or been destroyed, and whistleblower Phaedra Almajid, former international media officer for Qatar 2022, was threatened with a $1 million lawsuit by Qatar after receiving no support from FIFA following her putting forward her concerns of corruption. Never has the parallel with the excuse “the dog ate my homework” seemed more apt. Spain-Portugal are also alluded to in the report as being “extremely uncooperative”, though not mentioned by name.

One of the biggest flaws in the investigation is that it had no subpoena powers, thus no one could be forced to cooperate with the investigation; hence how Spain-Portugal were able to be uncooperative without ramification. In fact, Garcia wasn’t even allowed to step foot into Russia, which makes you wonder why he was selected to investigate in the first place – or whether FIFA actually wanted a thorough and fair investigation.

“The Russian government didn’t want to give him a visa, because he was once involved in the prosecution of a guy named Viktor Bout, a Russian national currently serving a 25-year sentence for arms trafficking,” explained ESPN football writer Gabriele Marcotti. “The Russian government considered it a politically motivated prosecution, so he’s banned from the country.”

No one involved in the investigation visited Qatar or South Korea either.

There is also, bemusingly, no mention of the collusion between the Spain-Portugal and Qatar bids to guarantee votes, a fact that has been in the public domain after being confirmed by none other than Sepp Blatter in January 2012.

“I’ll be honest, there was a bundle of votes between Spain and Qatar,” Blatter said at the time. “But it was a nonsense. It was there but it didn’t work, not for one and not for the other side.”

Even though the alleged seven votes made up more than half the 12 votes that allowed Qatar to win the 2022 vote.

Sports Attorney David Larkin, co-director of the Change FIFA organisation is hardly surprised by the findings and summary by Eckert, however.

“In true FIFA fashion, one part of the Ethics Committee called the other part of the Ethics Committee unethical for the way that they summarised the report,” he said on the Beyond The Pitch radio show in the United States.

“You’re an organisation charged with impropriety and you hand-pick the investigator. Then you pay that [investigator], they report to you and everything that [investigator] does is secret. That’s the ‘investigation’ that FIFA has undertaken to fix itself. That would never happen in the real world.”

Likening it to a criminal investigation for an average crook, Larkin highlights how absurd it is that Eckert, in his role as pseudo-judge to Garcia’s pseudo-police officer, has to report to FIFA, is paid by FIFA, and has to operate within rules FIFA sets; while investigating FIFA.

Meanwhile, the comments from the Japan bid that they were working with the Russians in vote-trading is brushed over as if it is of little consequence. As is the role of Bin Hammam, despite being labelled by the Qatari bid as their “biggest asset” during the process, and the allegations by Warner of buying the tournament. Equally, at least from Eckert’s summary, there is no evidence of interviews taking place with either of Bin Hammam or Warner, nor is there with FBI informant and former CONCACAF General Secretary and FIFA ExCo member Chuck Blazer aka Mr Ten Percent.

(UPDATE: Since this piece has been written, the Sunday Times has challenged the claims by the report in regards to Bin Hammam’s involvement in the Qatar bid with fresh evidence not included in the summary).

Moreover, the two whistleblowers, Australian Bonita Mersiades and Qatari Phaedra Almajid, who both worked closely with their respective countries’ bids, have been discredited as “unreliable”. A kick in the teeth for two brave women who were willing to come out and expose the flawed system. However, it is unclear as to whether this is simply Eckert’s assertion or Garcia’s (considering he invited, at least, Mersiades for interview), and we will perhaps find out when (if) the full 430-page document is published.

“It’s an organisation that, in terms of governance, is just a farce,” Mersiades said.

“The only people that come out well in that summary report by Eckert is FIFA. [It says] they got their decisions right in respect to Qatar and Russia, and there’s even a sentence and a reference in there that Sepp Blatter ran a wonderful process. It’s almost like high comedy.”

The English FA Chairman Greg Dyke shared her views, and labelled the report “pointless” and “a joke”.

Most recently, and perhaps most significantly, German Football League President Dr Reinhard Raubell has called for FIFA to publish the full Garcia Report, as has EU Commissioner for Sports, Tibor Navracsics.

While FIFA is Swiss-based and is essentially unregulated,  it still has to answer to EU rules and regulations in regards its lucrative business activities and the sale of television rights, so Navracsics has some power it seems.

There has long been a feeling that nothing will change at FIFA however, and that school of thought is somewhat reasonable considering that there has been little change to the hierarchy or further transparency and openness in its operations. Sepp Blatter is running for another term – despite being loudly booed at the World Cup in Brazil and recently protested against in Switzerland, and claiming in 2011 that this current term would be his last – unopposed, in something more akin to a tyrannical dictatorship rather than the governing body of the world’s most popular sport.

As mentioned, Garcia is going to appeal the summary produced by Eckert, but there are problems there too. An appeal will go to the Investigatory Branch of the Ethics Committee, which Garcia himself is the Chairman, and would then be adjudicated by the Adjudicatory Chamber which is chaired by Eckert, so we’re essentially going around in circles.

And that’s the way they run things at FIFA, and will continue to do so until there is pressure placed on them by governments or sponsors, because until then they still hold all the cards. Blazer’s cooperation with the FBI may prompt an independent investigation however, and reports that Blazer – who was being investigated for unpaid taxes and hidden earnings during his time at CONCACAF – wore a bug in meetings with other FIFA representatives has seen Damian Collins call for the Serious Fraud Office to investigate. Time will tell, but it is about time the axe fell and a new, transparent system is put in place, and the Blazer bugging could very well be the catalyst that sees the governmental pressure to clean up FIFA that the likes of Collins, Jennings and Foster, as well as the greater football fraternity, have been waiting for.

Chuck Blazer, aka Mr Ten Percent, has been working as an informant for the FBI after being investigated himself.
Chuck Blazer, aka Mr Ten Percent, has been working as an informant for the FBI after being investigated himself.

As one final note, if all of the above doesn’t make the organisation look ridiculous enough, earlier this year they released a film about themselves, with Tim Roth, Gerard Depardieu and Sam Neill starring as Sepp Blatter, Jules Rimet and Joao Havelange respectively. Yeah, the group that basically raped and pillaged the Brazilian government and its people in order to host the 2014 showpiece – which led to mass protests and several deaths during the hasty, shambolic construction – spent £16m of their money (not bad for a not-for-profit organisation to have that much lying around behind the couch, eh?) on a 110 minute piece of propaganda titled United Passions which was released in June.

As was stated on the Football Ramble a few weeks ago, to paraphrase, “when the heroes of a Hollywood film are a bunch of old white men in suits, something has gone horribly wrong”.

We’ll leave the final word on that to IMDB’s synopsis submitted by bob the moo:

Once football was all about small boys in the park, jumpers for goalposts. Rush goalie. Two at the back, three in the middle, four up front. Passion, fun, enjoyment. This is the story of the men who took football from that and changed it. A group of wholly honest and deeply ethical men who had a dream and, to achieve that dream, established the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA). Driven by their determination to lead football into a brighter, bigger future, the trustworthy and wholly honest Sepp Blatter, Jules Rimet, and Joao Havelange overcame their doubts and fought obstacles and scandals to make FIFA and the World Cup a reality. Spanning the tumultuous 20th Century, this timeless saga will tell the story of how an organization currently mired in entirely unsubstantiated accusations of scandal and corruption started their journey to that destination.

About Mark Houston 86 Articles
Mark is an editor of The Blog FC and has also contributed to other sport and music sites. He predominantly writes about La Liga but also follows Europe's other top leagues and the local A-League. There's a special place in his heart for bearded deep-lying playmakers and he's a proud member of the Goalkeepers Union.