Sepp Blatter is a man with a list of bizarre statements longer than David Icke’s, but yesterday his insistence he was “pleased” a Swiss court released a much-awaited document regarding FIFA, bribes and now defunct marketing company ISLwas still pretty incredible.
The president of football’s global governing body was apparently happy that finally – and only after years and years of pressure from some noble media outlets like the BBC, who have been castigated for pursuing the story – the real extent of the corruption, greed and venal self-interest that has gripped FIFA was laid bare for all to see.
As a snapshot of a much-derided institution it was perhaps more damaging than any of the revelations and controversies that have preceded it. FIFA’s tendency to drag football through the gutter is one of Early Doors’ most common topics, but even it was shocked at just how much devil was in the detail of the court report published by the prosecutor’s office of the Swiss canton of Zug.
Here in a legal document were substantial and damning allegations about how two former senior figures in FIFA – Joao Havelange and Ricardo Teixeira – took as much as 21.9 million Swiss francs (£14.4 million) in bribes from a now defunct marketing company over the course of eight years. The same marketing company that was awarded the TV rights for the 2002 and 2006 World Cups.
Huge amounts of money enriched officials who were supposed to be guardians of the game. Money that could otherwise have been invested into grass-roots projects or assisting vulnerable young players – two key areas of FIFA’s remit. It is easy to become apathetic when it comes to FIFA and corruption scandals, such is the regularity with which they occur, but this must be the worst outrage to hit the beleaguered body.
Commercial bribery was not illegal in Switzerland at the time the alleged payments occurred yet the Swiss prosecutor still felt compelled to pursue the two FIFA figures for breaches of their duty to the organisation. The matter was settled when the two men agreed to return a portion of the money that had come their way.
But is not just the scale of the alleged bribery that is so damning to FIFA, it is the fact the organisation knew about it. The document states: “The finding that FIFA had knowledge of the bribery payments to persons within its organs is not questioned. This is firstly because various members of the executive committee had received money, and furthermore, a [1m Swiss francs] payment made to Joao Havelange was mistakenly directly transferred to a FIFA account.”
If it wasn’t so serious then this would be seriously funny – it is comic bungling of the highest order. But incredibly, despite having knowledge of all this, FIFA left Havelange untouched and allowed Teixeira to remain a member of the executive committee – voting on the 2018 and 2022 World Cup decisions – until he resigned himself due to ill health in March this year.
Why was no action taken against him or Havelange? Why did FIFA demand that criminal proceedings were ended against the two men when agreeing to pay 2.5million Swiss francs (£1.64m) in compensation?
Given Blatter was a senior figure at FIFA throughout this time – ascending to the presidency to replace his big pal Havelange in 1998 – it is laughable that since last year he has been attempting to lead a campaign against corruption, of which his insistence that he was “pleased” by the letter’s release was no doubt a small part.
Perhaps Blatter’s pleasure can also be explained by the fact he was not personally named as taking bribes, but the fact the whole scandal played out on his watch, and that FIFA settled the matter without then taking action against Havelange and Teixeira, allowing the latter to remain a hugely influential figure with a leading role in organising the 2014 World Cup in his homeland of Brazil, is no less damning.
This is the point when ED would normally demand that if FIFA was serious about rooting out the corruption that has stripped it of any credibility then Blatter and his fellow cronies in the old regime would do the decent thing and step down. After all, they are responsible for the culture in which these alleged activities have taken place.
But, sadly, we know that isn’t going to happen, don’t we? Like the proverbial cockroach surviving nuclear apocalypse, FIFA’s venerable leader survives controversy after controversy. Idiotic claims about racism or homophobia are brushed aside; an entirely farcical election last year, in which he was the only candidate, is forgotten.
FIFA is an unaccountable organisation. Never has that been clearer than this morning. It secretly settled a bribery prosecution against two of its leading lights and then took no action whatsoever against them.
There is a chance to make a stand here, however woefully late. Blatter can reveal exactly what he knew about the ISL bribes, and when, while FIFA can announce investigations into the payments highlighted by the document released on Wednesday and promise some real punishments.
However, at present that seems desperately unlikely. With matters as serious as this brushed under the carpet for years, away from public scrutiny, how can we have faith in FIFA as an organisation? The answer is simple: we can’t, not when it is so wrapped up in naked self-interest and Blatter, with his hollow anti-corruption rhetoric, remains in charge.
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QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I respect the decision of the owner of Chelsea, but I will never accept it. I told him that for me it was him quitting on me when he had been so much involved in the beginning in bringing me in and he was the one also who was not putting up to the things he promised. It is all very well that you cut the project short and Chelsea go on to win two trophies and you say how wonderful the squad was, but at the beginning nobody believed in that squad when we put it together.” – Three months after his departure from Chelsea, and on the day of his first press conference as Tottenham manager, Andre Villas-Boas has a bite back at Roman Abramovich.
FOREIGN VIEW: The Game’s Gone Mad department, pt.578 . AC Milan have accepted a bid from Paris St-Germain for both Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva, according to a report in Italy. On Wednesday morning, French daily L’Equipe said that PSG were planning to bid for the pair. Then later on Wednesday evening, Italian sports channel Sky Sport 24 reported that the bid — believed to be €65 million (£51.3m) – had been accepted.
COMING UP: It’s day four of the John Terry racism trial so stick around for the latest updates. Paul Parker also files his latest column.