The silence of Coe

Sebastian Coe’s appointment on the FIFA Ethics Committee raised surprise from the start. What were his qualifications? What did he know about football at all, let alone of its complex ramifications, its reported scams?

FIFA have an Ethics Committee. No, please don’t laugh. Or say that this is rather like Stalinist Russia having a Minister of Justice. FIFA alas is steeped in ethical controversy. Its executives have been accused by the judge in a New York court of deep dishonesty; amounting to perjury. The ineffable Jack Warner, Trinidad’s Teflon President of the CONCACAF, shrugs off one accusation of malfeasance after another. Charge after charge is levelled at Sepp Blatter an d his organisation. Charge after charge is simply shrugged off, just as it was in the high old days of his predecessor, Joao Havelange.

And there, as what one might call a silent partner, is Lord (yes, Lord!) Sebastian Coe. A glorious runner in his day, splendid winner of two Olympic gold medals. More recently, the man who triumphantly brought to Britain what many of us would describe as the poisoned chalice of the Olympic Games, whose costs, as originally presented by Coe and the inept Tessa Jowell, a politician whose every initiative seems doomed (late night drinking predictably degenerating into drunken chaos; a massive projected increase of gambling casinos only lately knocked on the head by the new Prime Minister, Gordon Brown), have proved ludicrously under-estimated.

Jowell herself, most recently, having denied that huge sums were being spent by the British Olympic body on “consultancies,” had to admit that this was all too true. Meanwhile, Coe’s appointment on the so-called FIFA Ethics Committee raised surprise from the start. What were his qualifications? What did he know about football at all, let alone of its complex ramifications, its reported scams and scandals? And indeed, since his appointment and the inception of his committee, it has done virtually nothing except, it is reported, to deal with the salient situation of Kenyan referees!

The indefatigable Andrew Jennings, the journalist who for years has pursued corruption in international sport, first in the rancid Olympic Movement, notably under the aegis of Samaranch, recently had a new programme on British television, in which he returned to the vexed subject of corruption at FIFA. Coe wouldn’t speak to him, would give no interview and turned his back on him when Jennings, with microphone in hand and cameras at the ready, approached him as he went into a meeting at FIFA’s Zurich headquarters. Yet the machinations of Jack Warner, already detailed in this column, and the appalling figure cut by FIFA’s officials in the New York court, over the Mastercard-Visa affair, simply cry out for investigation.

As we all too well know, when the matter of Warner’s short changing of Trinidad’s gallant World Cup 2006 footballers was referred to FIFA, the lamentable answer was that this was a matter that lay outside their jurisdiction and must be settled “domestically.” But how? In his documentary, Jennings interviewed Shaka Hislop, the veteran goalkeeper. Hislop endorsed what Jennings had told us before; and FIFA had brushed aside. That Warner, alleging his association had received only $22,000 as their World Cup share, had therefore paid each player a mere $500. But Hislop and company were well aware that, in fact, the Trinidad association had been paid near to $200 million. Warner’s outrageous response was to suspend every one of them, which meant none of them could play in the ensuing Gold Cup tournament, a useful shop window. They have since been reinstated, but too late. And I doubt if they will ever be paid, though they have appealed.

Also interviewed on the film was John McBeth, formerly President of the Scottish FA. He had, some months ago, been cast into outer darkness and levered off the FIFA executive committee on the spurious grounds of racism, having simply said, as everybody knows, that in African and Caribbean football authorities corruption can intrude.

He also, on TV, gave a pungent example of Warner at work. In May 2004, he related, after a match between Scotland and Trinidad at Easter Road, the Hibernian Stadium in Edinburgh, Warner had asked for the appearance money to be paid into his personal account. McBeth refused. “I later found out,” he pursued, “he had approached other Scottish FA staff to do the same thing.” McBeth simply sent the money to the Trinidad Federation saying, “If they owed Warner money, they could pay it to him.”

In that New York court, FIFA, in show business parlance, stank the place out. Both the FIFA marketing chief Jerome Valoke (whom the judgement described as telling “lies, lies and lies”) and fat Chuck Blazer, number two to Warner on CONCACAF, were accused by the woman judge of flagrant deceit. FIFA had, as we know, tried to abort their contractual deal with Mastercard in favour of Visa, their appeal against the decision fell utterly flat and it cost them the bagatelle of $90 million.

Not only that, when Mastercard pursued their case, FIFA informed them they were too late since a document had been signed on April 3 of that year and it was now April 6. But the document involved turned out to have been, let us politely say, illicitly amended. Whatever next? Oh, yes, Valoke, initially suspended, has been promoted to FIFA General Secretary!

Whatever next? FIFA, via one of their apparatchik, declare, needless to say, “We are absolutely unconcerned about this programme.” And I don’t suppose there is any hope of the man who took McBeth’s committee place, the largely anonymous Geoff Thompson, of the F.A., doing what he should and kicking up hell.

Or any response from other major European Federations. Those of South America will inevitably follow the precept that people who live in glasshouses shouldn’t throw stones. Ever since Joao Havelange (see Jennings’ book ‘Foul’) took money from the Brazilian confederation, of which he was President, and spread it around to buy votes to unseat Stanley Rous as FIFA President in 1974, that’s how it has been.