Over the last 12 months FIFA, football’s governing body, has come under intense scrutiny following allegations of corruption against some of its highest profile members, including the president and the leaders of two of it’s confederations.
The three names that cropped up time and again during this period were those of Sepp Blatter, the FIFA president, Jack Warner, Blatter’s former vice president at FIFA and Mohammed bin Hamman, the former president of the Asian Football Confederation.
Earlier this year, both Warner and bin Hamman were suspended from their positions at FIFA whilst an investigation into allegations of bribery and corruption were carried out by FIFA’s ethics committee.
The investigations into Warner’s conduct were eventually dropped after he agreed to resign from his post and he was effectively absolved of any wrong-doing as the ethics committee concluded that: “As a consequence of Mr Warner’s self-determined resignation, all ethics committee procedures against him have been closed and the presumption of innocence is maintained.”
Mohammed bin Hamman, on the other hand, was not given the chance to resign with his reputation intact and he was subsequently banned for life from all football activities after the ethics committee found that his actions violated FIFA rules.
However, Sepp Blatter felt no recriminations as the allegations that he knew of the culture of bribery within his organisation but failed to do anything about it were never investigated due to a lack of supporting evidence.
Furthermore, Mohammed bin Hamman’s withdrawal from the presidential race and the resignation of Jack Warner meant that Blatter ran unopposed for a fourth term as FIFA president.
This left a sour taste in the mouths of many in the football world, most notably the English FA who felt that their bid had been unfairly dismissed on Blatter’s behest due to the fact that the BBC aired a programme on the alleged corruption within FIFA just days before the final votes were cast.
This, coupled with the fact that Qatar, a country with no current footballing infrastructure but with money to burn (literally, as it is oil rich), led to many questioning FIFA’s World Cup bidding and voting process, which, in turn led to the investigations into the allegations of corruption.
The following weeks and months saw countless allegations and counter allegations being made by, to and about all of protagonists involved in this unsavoury episode as each of them tried to dig their way out of the mess or at least limit the amount of mud that would stick.
The eventual outcome shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone as the accepted wisdom was Blatter had worked himself into a position whereby he had become something of an untouchable at FIFA, much in the same way his predecessor Joao Havelange had.
However, what did come as a surprise (well it came as a surprise to me anyway!) was the level of shock at the fact that there appeared to be a culture of corruption in football’s corridors of power.
Allegations of corruption within governing bodies and large organisations are nothing new and generally get unearthed through investigative journalism, the testimony of whistleblowers, good old fashioned conspiracy theories or a combination of the three. This is certainly the case with FIFA where the allegations of corruption go back at least as far as 1974 when the Brazilian Joao Havelange took over from England’s Stanley Rous as head of football’s governing body.
A Long Term Issue
In his excellent book How They Stole the Game David Yallop reveals how a culture of corruption was incumbent in FIFA long before Sepp Blatter took office as it reveals how Joao Havelange siphoned off funds from the Federation of Brazilian Sport (CBD), as well as from one of his own companies, to pay FIFA delegates for votes that would assure him the position of FIFA president.
Yallop claims that Havelange used this money for first class travel, lodgings and hospitality for himself and the delegates that had promised to vote for him and that during the 16 years that he controlled the CBD at least $6.6 million went unaccounted for.
This led to an enquiry being conducted by financial experts in the Brazilian government but, rather than expose the corruption that was rife, the authorities opted to bail out the CBD, partly to save face and partly to avoid further questions being asked of Havelange’s political connections.
And it appears that where Havelange led FIFA delegates would follow, with the 1982 World Cup in Spain highlighting the extent of the greed. During that tournament ‘The bill for bringing the FIFA officials to Spain for World Cup 82 was over $3 million – more than it cost to transport and accommodate the twenty four teams’ (p.153 – How They Stole the Game).
It appears that this culture of corruption has carried over into the current regime as Yallop claims that in order to win the FIFA presidency in 1998 people acting on behalf of Sepp Blatter greased the palms of around 20 delegates, mainly from African Nations, to the tune $50,000 a man.
History was then seen to repeat itself as, just as Havelange had done 24 years earlier during his presidential campaign, Blatter was awarded the presidency. And this was in spite of the fact that UEFA’s Lennart Johansson was the clear frontrunner for the position having spent four years canvassing for votes as opposed to the four months that Blatter had been in the running for the presidency!
It is alleged that the ‘buying’ of the Asian and African votes were enough to swing the vote in Blatter’s favour although the man himself has done enough to distance himself from the allegations and he continues to vehemently deny any knowledge of such activities.
However, both the Asian and African confederations are reaping the benefits of Blatter’s presidency with the African Nations’ Cup being held every two years, despite the standard for such tournaments being every four years and the inconvenience it causes to European clubs who employ a large number of African players.
Questions about The World Cup
In addition, as mentioned earlier, Qatar were awarded the 2022 World Cup in spite of the fact that they currently have no infrastructure in place for the sport and it would be wholly impractical, if not dangerous, to play such a tournament in the searing desert heat.
Blatter’s argument that he wants to send the World Cup to ‘new territories’ does not even stand up to scrutiny in this instance as Australia were one of the countries that were also in the running for the 2022 World Cup. Like Qatar, Australia is also a ‘new territory’ but it is one that is much better suited to hosting such a competition having hosted arguably the best Olympics of modern times (Sydney 2000) as well as having fledgling national league and a national side that has qualified for the last two World Cup tournaments.
You can draw your own conclusions from the above but what appears to be clear is that once a culture of corruption becomes entrenched, it is something that is passed on from one leader to the next.
The world is blinded when corruption is king.