Saturday 22 October 2016

Fifa vote shows money will rule publicly and privately

Uefa members should declare that they will not play at the 2018 or 2022 World Cups unless the Garcia report is published in full, Blatter resigns and his successor commits to fundamental reform of Fifa

Will Hutton

Published 31/05/2015 | 02:30

Re-elected FIFA President Sepp Blatter gestures during news conference after an extraordinary Executive Committee meeting in Zurich, Switzerland. Blatter has been re-elected as FIFA president for a fifth term after Jordan's Prince Ali bin Al Hussein conceded defeat at the Congress of world football's governing body on Friday (REUTERS/Arnd Wiegman)
Re-elected FIFA President Sepp Blatter gestures during news conference after an extraordinary Executive Committee meeting in Zurich, Switzerland. Blatter has been re-elected as FIFA president for a fifth term after Jordan's Prince Ali bin Al Hussein conceded defeat at the Congress of world football's governing body on Friday (REUTERS/Arnd Wiegman)
Michael Garcia

Is the overriding principle of our times that bad behaviour drives out good? The assertion of self-interest and the pursuit of profit, by fair means or foul, trumps everything. Great values are under assault. Whether nobility of purpose, behaving with integrity, looking out for others, accepting responsibility or just doing the right thing - all seem to be withering on the vine.

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Emblematic of the age was the action of 133 leaders of world football associations tamely re-electing Sepp Blatter for a fifth term as president of Fifa. This came after the arrest (at the request of the US) earlier in the week, at a luxury Zurich hotel, of seven of its key officials, suspected of receiving more than $100m in bribes.

True, there were 73 football associations who voted against him, the president of Uefa, Michel Platini called for his resignation and the big multinationals sponsoring Fifa events, notably the World Cup, threatened to review their contracts. But Blatter has been here before. He knows that, whatever the muttering, veiled threats and calls for his resignation, nobody has yet had the will to act. Money will rule, publicly and privately.

After all, none of this is a surprise, despite the way it was reported: everyone around Fifa has known the stakes and the likelihood of arrests for at least six months. Even the Swiss raid on Fifa's HQ last week, opening Swiss criminal proceedings against "persons unknown", independent of the US inquiry, was another predictable action.

In 2012, Blatter appointed a former German judge, Hans-Joachim Eckert, as chair of Fifa's ethics committee, and former US attorney for the southern district of New York, Michael Garcia, to lead its investigative wing.

Garcia had a mandate to investigate both current and past malpractices, notably the charges of bribery and corruption surrounding the allocation of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar. It was the minimum Blatter could do, given the mounting evidence of corruption, but as we now know, he never intended the investigation to go far.

Garcia, in good faith, duly delivered his report last September. Amazingly, both Eckert and Blatter then refused to publish it or to pass it to investigative authorities in Switzerland, the US and the other countries involved.

Instead, last November, a highly selective executive summary was released, exonerating Qatar and Russia and raising questions about the behaviour of the Australian and English football associations in the bidding process. Also, Fifa made a minimal complaint to the Swiss authorities about the "possible misconduct" of some "individual persons" with regard to the "international transfer of assets with connections to Switzerland".

Garcia protested fiercely. The summary was "materially incomplete", he said, with "erroneous representations of the facts and conclusions". In December, he resigned, citing lack of leadership in Fifa and his loss of confidence in the ethics committee being truly independent of Blatter. Essentially, he had been stitched up.

Throughout those weeks last autumn, the big six corporate sponsors repeated the mantra of last week: football and Fifa had to clean up their act. The German FA warned that Uefa might leave Fifa if the report was not published in full. Richard Scudamore, CEO of the Premier League, echoed the refrain. Others on Fifa's executive committee called for publication. They were fobbed off with the line that the report could be published only after the Swiss authorities had concluded their investigations, which could take years.

Meanwhile, Blatter confirmed that the World Cup would be held in Russia and then Qatar, insisted on his commitment to ethics and carried on garnering the votes from Africa, Latin American and the Caribbean that would ensure his re-election. But while he sailed on regardless, the US attorney general's office continued its investigations, helped no doubt by the Garcia report. Hence, the inevitable arrests.

Under different leadership, the published report could have triggered global action against corruption in football. Fifa's governing processes should have been overhauled from top to bottom. There should be term limits on executives, transparency in the bidding process to host tournaments and proper checks and balances. None of this happened and the author of the inactivity has now been re-elected president. It is breathtaking hypocrisy and a global signal that bad behaviour pays off.

Which is why European football authorities, Western broadcasters and corporate sponsors must now react firmly and decisively, as they should have done over the past six months, so ending Blatter's candidacy. This cannot be ducked and left to the US attorney general or the tepid efforts of the Swiss.

Uefa members should now declare they will not play at the 2018 and 2022 World Cups unless Blatter resigns, the Garcia report is published and a successor commits to fundamental reform of Fifa. Moreover, they should propose to hold a tournament at the same time as the scheduled World Cup.

But such a coalition is almost impossible to build. Money rules. The sponsorship deals run to hundreds of millions, the broadcast rights to billions. Companies are being asked to put profit at risk for the apparently nebulous gain of endorsing good values.

Part of the problem is that values are seen as soft, and upholding them is someone else's responsibility. Tackling corruption, as the free-market economists have told us, will be done through the price mechanism exacting a penalty if it becomes too pervasive, or it's the responsibility of the police. The job of market participants - whether players, clubs, broadcasters or sponsor companies - is just to follow the money. They can be value-free and indifferent to the moral and social consequences of their actions.

One of the more encouraging developments last week was that one company - Visa - was prepared to declare independence from that mindset. More need to join it. Durable capitalism, in football as elsewhere, cannot abandon principles of integrity, fair play and awareness of the profound social and moral dimensions that its actions have on others. Indeed, the best capitalism is rooted in the recognition that it has a moral and social purpose.

Blatter and his supporters think otherwise: that capitalism's values are those of the souk or the casino, that football is no different, and that the West is hypocritical to proclaim otherwise. It is a sacred duty to prove him wrong.

© Observer

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