By Prof Dr Ian Blackshaw
A brief preliminary comment on the unfolding dramatic and seismic events enveloping FIFA, the World Governing Body of Association Football, during the last ten days would not, I think, be out of place.
Following the dawn arrests of a number of FIFA officials made, at the behest of the US Authorities, by the Swiss Police in Zurich on 27 May and the re-election for an unprecedented fifth term of Sepp Blatter as FIFA President on 29 May, despite calls for that election to be postponed and, having been held, for Blatter to resign, the drama continued four days later with the unexpected announcement by Blatter that he was stepping down. Since then, further revelations of the scale and extent of the corruption in FIFA have come to light.
Not least the admissions made to a US Federal Judge by the former FIFA Executive Committee Member, Chuck Blazer that he and other members of the FIFA governing body had agreed to receive bribes for voting for the host cities of the 1998 and 2010 FIFA World Cups. He also admitted that he and others had accepted bribes and kickbacks in connection with the awarding of the broadcast and other rights to the 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002 and 2003 to the CONCACAF Gold Cup, the region’s top national team tournament, which he helped to launch in 1991. He is clearly ready to spill the beans as he wants to turn ‘Queen’s evidence’ and avoid jail or, at least, be given a lighter sentence!
Likewise, the admissions by the former President of CONCACAF, Jack Warner, a rather controversial figure from Trinidad and Tobago, who is among the 14 soccer officials and businessmen named in the US indictment, which triggered last week’s arrests in Zurich, that bribery and corruption is rife in FIFA and that he will reveal all, have rocked the very foundations of ‘the beautiful game’. This has caused many commentators to rename football as ‘the ugly game’.
Blatter is due to stand down at the next Extraordinary General Assembly of FIFA, which, according to the FIFA Statutes, is due to be held sometime between December of this year and March of next year. Many leading voices in football have called for Blatter to step down immediately. However, Blatter is resisting these calls and has announced that, whilst serving out his time before being replaced, he is working on reforms in FIFA to try to rid it of its systemic corruption. In any case, FIFA needs a new effective leader as soon as possible! Perhaps, the likes of Michel Platini, the current President of UEFA.
FIFA cannot, according to attempts made in the recent past, reform itself from within (look at what the efforts over a two-year period of the New York US Attorney, Michael Garcia, came to last year!) and there is a need, therefore, for some kind of external independent commission to be set up. Perhaps under the auspices of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), of which association football is an Olympic Sport. The shenanigans at FIFA cannot possibly be doing the reputation of the Olympic Movement any good at all and the IOC, having since the scandals of the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics set up its successful Ethics Committee, should give a firm and decisive moral and ethical lead from the position of power and influence that it enjoys in World Sport!
Perhaps also, in conjunction with the IOC, the Swiss Federal Government, which is also conducting its own investigations into possible bribery involved in the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Moscow and Qatar, can take some positive action to tighten up the governance and transparency of FIFA and, indeed, of any other International Sports Bodies, established in Switzerland and receiving favourable tax and other treatment there, that are not playing the game; that is, according to the rules of fair play enshrined in the practice of sport, which – quite rightly – is expected of them!
Sadly, we can expect further shocking revelations about FIFA over the coming days, weeks and months, but more importantly, for all the millions of dedicated football fans around the world, what is actually being done about them for the good of the game!
Prof Dr Ian Blackshaw is an International Sports Lawyer, Academic and Author and may be contacted by e-mail at ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’