Friday 23 February 2018

Football's cosy cartel begins to crumble from within

Tommy Conlon

Let's get this clear: the chap from Qatar and the chap from Trinidad have been accused of offering cash bribes for votes. They have been summoned to account for themselves before a regulatory committee, which will convene today.

The chap from Qatar, Mohamed Bin Hammam, apparently believes this is a conspiracy, orchestrated by his rival for those same votes, one Joseph S Blatter. So he has made a counterclaim against his rival and now Blatter will also have to face the same committee today.

Bin Hammam has not accused Blatter of bribery. He has complained instead that Blatter was aware of these bribery allegations and did nothing about them. In other words, his grievance seemingly is that Blatter didn't investigate him, Bin Hammam, about bribes he denies ever offering in the first place. Bin Hammam has said the allegations are "without substance", but he wants Blatter to explain why he didn't investigate them anyway.

Either that, or he wants Blatter to explain why he didn't investigate the role of the chap from Trinidad, Jack Warner, in these allegations. But if Bin Hammam wants Warner investigated, he will be bringing a world of trouble down on his own head too because both of them were together when the alleged bungs were being offered.

Welcome to the wacky world of FIFA, where a long-running boardroom farce full of backroom chicanery appears to be reaching some sort of dénouement. One can only conclude that if a man is navigating a world that's as twisted as a corkscrew, the danger is that when he tries to stab someone else in the back he'll end up stabbing himself.

There are signs that the junta which runs world football is starting to crumble from within. Having spent years sweeping corruption allegations under the carpet, they were too deluded to notice that they were merely sweeping it into a big hump in the middle of the floor.

It swelled like a balloon after the recent bids for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. It started to stink like never before and this time Blatter, the FIFA president, couldn't shake off the smell. It has spread like a contagion to other members of the FIFA executive committee where nine of its members -- including Warner and Bin Hammam -- are now facing bribery allegations.

Which is why some of them are falling out like thieves. And why long-time allies like the three amigos mentioned above are turning on each other as the next presidential election looms. On Wednesday, Blatter, 75, will seek another four-year term as president at FIFA Congress. Bin Hammam, president of the Asian Football Confederation, is contesting the election. Jack Warner is president of Concacaf, the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football. On May 10 and 11 last the pair met with delegates from the Caribbean Football Union. This is Warner's territory and he has dominated football politics here for over 25 years. Bin Hammam was canvassing votes from these delegates. It is alleged he offered inducements of $40,000 per head.

An American member of FIFA's executive committee, a blazer rejoicing in the name Chuck Blazer, was informed of these alleged bribes. He commissioned a US lawyer, John Collins, to investigate the claims. Collins' dossier reportedly includes signed affidavits, text messages, photographs and email correspondence.

It was on foot of this dossier that Bin Hamman and Warner were summoned to appear before FIFA's ethics committee today. And it was in reply to this summons that Bin Hammam decided that Blatter had a case to answer too.

The abiding impression of these goons is that, like most sports politicians, they're amateurs. They reek of wealth and power but they are strictly second-rate. The major players in the corruption game these days, be it in politics or finance, build a superstructure around themselves of lawyers, accountants and managers. They are hard to get at, they bury the evidence deep.

Blatter comes along and gives a World Cup to Qatar. And thinks that no one will notice. There is a stream of corruption allegations against FIFA members dating back years, a lot of it on the public record. Warner was caught red-handed selling tickets to the black market for the 2006 World Cup.

Bin Hammam likewise for the 2002 World Cup. For 20 years FIFA handed over its World Cup commercial rights to one Swiss company, ISL, that went bankrupt in 2001. Subsequent investigations in the Swiss courts found a massive network of kickbacks, worth tens of millions, ending up in the accounts of senior FIFA executives.

Jack Warner and Mohamed Bin Hammam were key allies of Blatter when he won the FIFA presidency after Joao Havelange retired in 1998. They helped Blatter consolidate his power in subsequent years. In return, they supped long and hard from the trough. They were all in it together. Perhaps Blatter was getting a tad nostalgic last week when he described Warner and Bin Hammam as long-time friends.

"I take no joy," he said, "to see men who stood by my side for some two decades suffer through public humiliation without having been convicted of any wrongdoing." Blatter presumably wasn't feeling quite as sympathetic when Bin Hammam decided to drag him into the quicksand alongside he and Warner the next day.

One can only hope that the hitherto underemployed ethics committee throws them not a life buoy, but a concrete block instead.

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