Wednesday 28 June 2017

FIFA's jury of 12 hold key to growing legal storm

Corruption scandals are threatening FIFA's presidential election writes Owen Gibson

T he 12 members of FIFA's ethics committee will tonight deliver a verdict that could decide the future of football's governing body, amid growing calls for fundamental reform and fresh criticism from politicians and major sponsors.

As the 208 member nations gather in Zurich to choose FIFA's president for the next four years, there is growing pressure for the election to be suspended, given that both candidates, the incumbent Sepp Blatter and Mohamed Bin Hammam, face serious corruption allegations.

The British sports minister Hugh Robertson is to speak with foreign counterparts in an effort to form a consensus that action needs to be taken to reform FIFA. Robertson feels the current crisis could be FIFA's "Salt Lake City moment", referring to the bribery scandal that forced the International Olympic Committee into reform in 1999.

While Blatter's supporters believe he will claim a fourth term as president on Wednesday, many believe he has underestimated the strength of feeling outside the FIFA bubble.

"This happens to people when they do jobs for too long. They live in an ivory tower and lose any connection with the world outside. They probably think people will dismiss this, without realising how serious it is," said Robertson.

Much will depend on the outcome of today's deliberations by the ethics committee, which could suspend either or both men. Alternatively, it could provisionally suspend both Blatter and Bin Hammam while it deliberates further.

Blatter, whose 13-year tenure at the top of world football has been marked by recurrent scandal, became the tenth of its 24 executive committee members to face corruption allegations last Friday.

His opponent, Bin Hammam, who is charged with attempting to buy votes in Wednesday's election, has claimed that payments made to Caribbean Football Union officials were for legitimate expenses and that Blatter knew all about them, having been told by Jack Warner.

It was Warner, who has held a powerful position in FIFA for 28 years by virtue of controlling Concacaf's bloc of 35 votes, who arranged Bin Hammam's special conference with 25 voting members of the CFU on May 10-11, at which bundles of $40,000 in cash are alleged to have been distributed. The claims are documented in a dossier collated by John Collins, a Chicago attorney who was asked to investigate by Concacaf general secretary and FIFA executive committee member Chuck Blazer when he was approached by concerned CFU members.

Bin Hammam, a Qatari who has spent 15 years on FIFA's executive committee, claims the allegations are a plot to undermine his chances in the election, and accuses Blatter of a "tawdry manoeuvre" amid "increasing evidence of a conspiracy". For his part, Blatter insists he knew nothing of the allegations until he landed from a trip to Japan on Wednesday morning and has hit out at his detractors in the media.

Last week's events have shown the folly of the continued insistence from both men that they will overhaul FIFA's tarnished image. They were once close, with Bin Hammam helping Blatter to victory in the 1998 and 2002 elections, but they fell out when Bin Hammam felt Blatter had reneged on a promise to stand down this year.

Blatter is likely to dismiss calls for reform from Britain, Australia and the US as sour grapes over their World Cup bid humiliations, and will take heart from the support of Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin who he helped to victory in the 2014 race. But he will find it harder to dismiss the concerns of the major sponsors who have bankrolled FIFA's recovery from near bankruptcy in the wake of the collapse of sports marketing group ISL to an organisation sitting on reserves of $1.3bn a year thanks to bumper TV and advertising deals.

"I have to say that in general we have had a good relationship with FIFA for a long time. But obviously all that has happened in the last few days is neither positive for sport or for FIFA," said adidas chief executive Herbert Hainer.

However, the claims against Blatter, Bin Hammam and Warner are far from the only allegations facing the organisation. It was partly Blatter's desire to turn the bids for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups into a twin-track circus that created the climate for corruption and turned the spotlight on FIFA's inner workings.

The English FA has passed its own file of evidence to FIFA collected in the wake of allegations made by the former FA chairman Lord Triesman against four executive committee members -- Warner, Nicolas Leoz, Ricardo Teixeira and Worawi Makudi -- of soliciting inducements during the 2018 World Cup bidding process. A claim that Warner asked for financial help to build an education centre has been backed up by Premier League chairman Dave Richards, while the file also includes an email from Warner to Triesman asking the FA to pay for Haiti's World Cup television rights through him.

Two other FIFA executive committee members, the Nigerian Amos Adamu and Oceania's representative Reynald Temarii, were suspended by FIFA in October following a cash-for-votes investigation by the Sunday Times. Two more, Jacques Anouma and Issa Hayatou, were accused by an anonymous whistleblower of accepting bribes of $1.5m from the Qatar 2022 World Cup bid according to evidence submitted by the paper to a parliamentary inquiry.

Hayatou, Leoz and Teixeira were also accused by a BBC television documentary of accepting bribes from a $100m slush fund administered by ISL in the 1990s. All have denied the allegations.

Last week it also emerged that Teixeira faces a Brazilian parliamentary inquiry into his activities.

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