The FIFA fiasco

FIFA President Sepp Blatter has the spectre of South Africa hanging over him. Lately he has expressed his confidence that the next World Cup can be staged there, despite the appalling levels of violence and disorganisation.

I suppose that by this stage nothing done by the world football ruling body and its ineffable President, Sepp (51 bad new ideas every day) Blatter should remotely surprise us. Not even that, after the latest recent scandals, he should just have been voted back into power unopposed. This, despite the scandal — so horribly familiar — of Trinidad and World Cup tickets. This, after an American woman judge issued a fierce verdict against FIFA and its apparatchiks fo r trying to slide out of its contract with Mastercard in favour of their rivals, Visa. This, after one of the four FIFA executives impugned — and initially at least suspended by FIFA — when one of them, the head of the commercial department Jerome Valoke, accused with others by the court of telling “lies, lies, lies” — and corpulent CONCACAF executive Chuck Blazer was also rapped over the knuckles — is said to be in line to be made FIFA’s chief commercial executive.

Blatter, who insisted that he knew nothing about the scams — though evidence in court suggested that he must surely have done — has achieved a somewhat shaky stay of execution. Appealing the decision in New York, FIFA managed to have the case referred back to the judge, but only to decide the question of jurisdiction. Blatter and FIFA would clearly prefer it to be re-heard not in the United States but in Switzerland.

As for the ticket racket, what a surprise to know that it was located in Trinidad, though this time the much criticised and egregious Jack Warner — the target of that determined investigator Andrew Jennings — is of course not involved. One of his sons has carried the can for a black market operation which allegedly netted a million dollars. Blatter, who recently and shamelessly praised his organisation for its “transparency”, could hardly square that with the fact that though FIFA ordered the million bucks to be returned (up to the end of last year, only a small portion of it had been) they insisted that the matter be resolved in secret. But the secret leaked out.

Some weeks ago, a whistle was blown very loudly, with supreme indiscretion, by the newly elected — but not for long — British Vice-President of FIFA, one John McBeth, Chairman of the Scottish Football Association. Whereupon McBeth — there by default, because the inept English FA failed to promote its own candidate in time — proceeded to lay about him mightily, excoriating what he called and with great relevance, the corruption to be found in African and Caribbean football, adding for good measure, “I know two or three of FIFA who, if I shook hands with them, would have me counting my fingers.”

He was quickly bundled off the scene, giving way to the man who should, in any case, have had the seat, England’s dull and ineffectual Geoff Thompson. With Honest Jack Warner, secure in the knowledge that the 35 CONCACAF votes which he controls are so important to Blatter (though how important, you wonder, given that no nation voted against him as President this time round) demanded Britain should lose its right to have a Vice-President. Shameless is as shameless does.

To put the tin lid on it all, FIFA have recently appointed, wait for it, an Ethics Committee! Of course its remit will not go back more than a few years, nor will it be headed by a lawyer or a football executive. No, the chairmanship will go to Seb Coe, a great runner, a peripheral politician, who may now be praised or blamed for bringing the Olympics to Britain; but just what knowledge and insight he can contribute to FIFA and its prolix machinations, must remain deeply obscure.

That not a single national association, very much including the major powers of Europe and South America, where Brazil have long been a lost cause, cared to support a candidate against Blatter seemed an exercise in surrender and cynicism. Perhaps Blatter’s only possible nemesis, Jennings apart — and FIFA failed to prevent the publication of his devastating expose ‘FOUL!’ recently updated — is a fiercely determined, implacable and upright Swiss lawyer called Thomas Hildebrand. Domiciled now in Vienna, he has continued for some years now to work on the murky case of the collapse of the ISL organisation, long closely associated with FIFA, which collapsed with immense debts after absurdly overpaying for rights in world tennis and others. In May 2005, Hildebrand, who operates in the Swiss canton of Zug, charged Weber, a senior ISL executive and others with fraud, forgery, embezzlement of 118 million Swiss francs paid to them — but due to FIFA — by the Brazilian TV company Globe and 15 million francs from a Japanese marketing company, Dentsu. FIFA, bewilderingly, had withdrawn its “criminal complaint” against ISL, lodged in Zug, though Hildebrand pressed on and now appears to have found significant evidence in Lichtenstein. There is, meanwhile, the odd case of a $1 million plus payment made by ISL to FIFA, but returned to them. The case comes up in Zug’s courts later this year.

Hildebrand began his second inquiry back in November 2005, when he dramatically turned up at FIFA house unexpectedly, with a warrant to search the offices of Blatter and Urs Linsi, the senior executive and former banker whom Blatter has just dismissed. Just as, immediately after a somewhat turbulent public congress before the 2002 World Cup finals in Seoul, he had sacked his FIFA Secretary, Michel Zen Ruffinen, who had dared to criticise him and the running of FIFA.

Alas, there is nothing new under the FIFA sun. Blatter, of course, was preceded by the devious Joao Havelange, who remained in office from 1974 when he used money from the Brazilian Federation to acquire the votes of the African bloc to succeed President of FIFA Stanley Rous, till 1998, when Blatter succeeded him. ‘How they sold the game’, an excoriating book by the investigative journalist David Yallop, well and truly blew the whistle on Havelange’s many machinations, but Havelange shrugged it off, as he had done with all such similar charges; though he never sued Yallop, any more than Blatter has sued Jennings.

Meanwhile, Blatter has the spectre of South Africa hanging over him. Lately he has expressed his confidence that the next World Cup can be staged there, despite the appalling levels of violence and disorganisation. We’ll see.