AFR: Hustlin’ for the World Cup

A Football Report: Soraya Soemadiredja, Manila

Bidding for the World Cup requires lobbying, wining and dining, carefully manipulated and crafted PR in exchange for securing the coveted hosting spot. The wheeling and dealing happens in the public eye and must go unquestioned by the media watchdogs under the rules of the game. In essence, the process is best left to skilled hustlers.

This week international football has been left gasping for credibility as news of two members of the FIFA Executive Committee, the Mean Girls, if you will, of elite football, managed to get into a major PR disaster. Tahitian Reynald Temarii, one of the Vice Presidents and current president of the Oceania Football Confederation, and Amos Adamu of Nigeria, member and current president of the West African Football Union, were approached by reporters from The Sunday Times of England who posed as lobbyists of a group of American private companies wanting to secure the World Cup for the United States—hustlers. The two were recorded agreeing to secure their vote for the USA. In exchange, Adamu wanted 800,000 USD to build four artificial football pitches in Nigera and Temarii wanted 2.27 million USD to finance a sports academy.

This exposé hugely damages bidding process. The Ethics Committee, formed in 2006 met midweek to discuss this and other issues which fall under their jurisdiction related to the 2018 and 2022 bids: bidding nations who may have violated the Rules of Conduct for bidding nations and the six year old Code of Ethics, and possible bidding collusions between members. As a result, Temarii and Adamu are both “temporarily suspended” while the Committee will continue hearings where the two will have opportunities to defend their actions. Meanwhile, Sepp Blatter has issued a memorandum for all Executive Committee members to keep silent.

FIFA is notoriously inconsistent in the way violations from their members are handled. Some are expulsed and other flagrant and frequent violators get nothing. Vote selling would have been an outright breach of their Ethics Code, however, can it be as bad as the record of Jack Warner, another currently serving Vice President? Known for not only ripping off members of the Trinidad and Tobago national team of their rightful World Cup bonuses, attempting to have proceeds from a friendly Trinidad and Tobago played with Scotland paid directly to his name, but also the infamous 2006 World Cup ticket scam, where tickets initially meant for English fans ended up on the black market and sold at outrageous prices. FIFA went easy on him despite investigations by an independent auditor. Blatter’s dependence on Warner’s crucial voting bloc may explain why he’s still serving on the Committee and while Ismail Bhamjee, was expelled for similar reasons.

FIFA officials were implicated in one of the biggest broadcasting contract scandal that concluded this summer, swallowed up and forgotten in the midst of World Cup fever. Investigative journalist Andrew Jennings makes the connections in his book, Foul!: The Secret World of FIFA: Bribes, Vote Rigging and Ticket Scandals as do investigative journalist Jens Weinreich and Jens Sejer Andersen of Play the Game International. International Sport and Leisure, once the biggest sports marketing company in the world went bankrupt in 2001 despite possessing marketing and television rights of the 2002 and 2006 World Cups, worth 1.2 USD billion. Their liquidator found 3.5 million CHF in personal commissions were paid out to sporting officials. When administrators demanded a return of this money, most was repaid, in a single check worth 2.5 million CHF. Court proceedings revealed further secret payments were made of up to at least 138 million CHF to sports officials from various sporting organisations, including key members of FIFA. Based on testimony, kickbacks to sporting officials were a regular company practice, with these “salaries” vital to maintain contracts in the sporting industry. In an interesting twist, this June, all the parties involved, including the prosecutors office of the Canton of Zug, Switzerland, came to an agreement that no parties of the suit would be publicised after 5.5 CHF million was made by FIFA to the Swiss government . Described as “compensation payment”, FIFA bought their way out of a scandal. Under Blatter’s watch, who has spent a lot of his time fending off accusations that FIFA is corruptible. Clearly, he has a special dictionary, but fortunately for them, the final verdict was announced when everyone was focused on South Africa.

The World Cup bidding process is a now a spectacle in itself so Jérôme Valcke released a communiqué informing of the importance of abiding rules to maintain the independence of the 24-member voting panel, the Executive Committee, during the process. But the FIFA Code of Ethics is 13 pages brief, as is the Rules of Conduct for bidding nations and there are many ways around such rules despite the tightening of its rules, and an inconsistent approach in making them stick. An expensive dinner thrown during an Argentina-hosted friendly, conveniently a place from where the Executive Committee’s Senior Vice president Julio Grondona, hails, Australia’s failed bid which included a total estimated value of 50,000 AUSD in gifts for the wives of executive members, the English bid for 2014 included designer handbags worth 235 GBP each to members’ wives.

How are any of those truly different from an interested party from a bidding nation to supposedly “invest” in Nigerian and Tahitian football by contributing money to build football pitches or a football academy? The only thing that separates the two from the rest is that they were caught in the mere admission of vote selling—as opposed to being extensively investigated by legal authorities for criminal acts, perhaps.

It is clear that for sporting officials, bribes are crucial to the everyday workings of FIFA and the World Cup hosting. Sponsorships are not an exception. Horst Dassler of Adidas, at one point head of ISL, had a history of providing “lavish hospitality…at every international sports federation meeting”, according to sport and sociology academics, John Sugden and Alan Tomlinson in FIFA and the Contest for World Football (90). Years later, in 2010, that company possessed the clout to be able to pressure the South African government, with the convenient backing of FIFA and the Local Organising Committee, to forcibly shut down hawkers of unlicensed World Cup gear during this year’s World Cup, ensuring that financial proceeds remained within the FIFA family.

Bribery, in some form or another, is part of the complicated system of relationships that world football, including member nations, FAs, sponsors lead by FIFA, have built around the most lucrative sporting event and international football. Who is to blame for this? “The system”? FIFA officials? Sponsors? Or Switzerland? To this day, FIFA maintains the supra-nationalism of its organisation in judiciary procedings in article 58 of its Statute. It claims to be above the law of all nations and Blatter has stated, “What happens in our family is not a topic for a jurisdiction outside our family. Regular courts are not a part of our family.” FIFA conduct themselves with little regard for transparency in action or accounting and with a history of freezing out journalists who dare question the good FIFA name, peopled with corruptible officials and have a habit of getting embroiled in scandals. Meanwhile anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International, have partly blamed FIFA’s rampant corruption on tax breaks and lax Swiss anti-corruption legislation which make exemptions to non-profit sporting bodies. It remains to be seen whether this will change, but it’s clear that bribery and corruption are institutional and not recognized as such by the members, at least not publicly. “For the Game” or for themselves? Hustling is par for the course for the governing body of world football.

Recommended reads

  • Andrew Jennings’s Foul!: The Secret World of FIFA: Bribes, Vote Rigging and Ticket Scandals, HarperSport, 2006.
  • John Sugden and Alan Tomlinson’s FIFA and the Contest for World Football, Polity Press, 1998.

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