By Damian Collins and Jesse Norman
We shouldn’t leave the US and Switzerland to deal with the problem of FIFA. Our own investigation will press for its urgent reform.
Today sees a meeting of the Executive Committee of FIFA, the body ultimately responsible for running international football. Its 24 members may be gathering with some trepidation: the last time they were in Zurich several members of the committee were arrested by the Swiss authorities, at the request of the FBI.
As a result 14 individuals, including one current and two former vice presidents of FIFA, will be extradited to the United States, where they will reportedly face criminal charges for racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering. This follows an investigation into what the US Department for Justice has described as “corruption that is rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted”.
As the FBI and the Swiss authorities have made clear, there could well be further arrests. Some speculate that the reason FIFA’s long-time president, Sepp Blatter, failed to attend the recent Women’s World Cup in Vancouver is that he fears being nabbed by the FBI. Mr Blatter has acted for a long time as if the problem of corruption at FIFA is a private affair, to be resolved exclusively through FIFA’s internal processes. The reality is that these are criminal matters that need to be investigated by international authorities acting with the full power of the law.
FIFA’s internal investigations have been largely ineffectual and non-transparent, and it has only been through external investigations and reviews that the recent scandals have emerged. These include the so-called International Sport and Leisure (ISL) court case, in which João Havelange, the former president of FIFA, was exposed for taking millions of pounds in bribes, and the recent guilty plea of Chuck Blazer, the former member of the FIFA Executive Committee, on numerous counts of corruption.
There is particular public concern about the bidding processes that awarded the right to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments to Russia and Qatar respectively. A recent book based on leaked information has documented in detail a vast array of bribes and inducements allegedly paid to FIFA executive committee members, who alone selected the winning bids.
FIFA promised that it would lead its own investigation into these allegations. It retained Michael Garcia, the former US attorney, to produce a report. Yet it has repeatedly refused to publish that report. Eventually, under intense public pressure, it released a summary, which it said showed that no further action was necessary — only for Garcia himself then to condemn that summary as a misrepresentation.
No wonder the Swiss authorities have now opened a criminal investigation into the World Cup bidding process, based on the full text of the Garcia report. They have also seized computer files from FIFA’s offices, and are already investigating more than 50 suspicious payments made in connection with the bids.
More can be done. Alongside the US and Swiss prosecutions, other national parliaments and government agencies also have a role to play in using their powers to support FIFA reform. Britain must play its part. That is why we can announce that in September the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport select committee will open an investigation into the issue of FIFA reform, in the light of the latest revelations. We will be inviting the FA, the Serious Fraud Office and some of FIFA’s leading global commercial sponsors to explain their actions — or inaction — to date, and to press for urgent reform to the governance of world football.
The whole FIFA entourage needs examining. For example, FIFA’s main sponsors, which include Coca-Cola, Visa and McDonalds, are understandably the subject of growing public anger. The question has been raised as to why these corporations have not distanced themselves from FIFA in the face of the charges. Coca-Cola has now backed the proposal from the campaign group New FIFA Now for an independent reform commission, and it is time for the other sponsors to put their weight behind this as well.
Today’s FIFA meeting thus represents a final chance for its executive committee to put its house in order. It will be asked to agree plans for an extraordinary congress to approve reform of FIFA’s organisational structure, and the election of a new president. Sepp Blatter has stated publicly that he will not be standing for election, but he said the same thing in 2011, only to change his mind. Given FIFA’s record, there is an obvious danger that any changes will be defensive and half-hearted.
That is why we believe that there must be a full independent reform process for FIFA. It must be led by a respected international figure, such as Kofi Annan, the former UN Secretary General. It must co-operate fully with the external legal investigations, and the investigation we are announcing, to root out the wrongdoers, and put the organisation back on the right track.
Damian Collins and Jesse Norman are English Members of Parliament and respectively a member and the chairman of the Parliamentary Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee. Damian Collins is also a founder member of the ‘New FIFA Now’ campaign.
This article appeared in the UK Daily Telegraph Newspaper on 20 July, 2015 and is reproduced here with the kind permission of the authors.