FIFA: Blatter Bull – The Answers

by | Apr 29, 2016

Until Sepp Blatter was suspended from “football-related activity” last October, media access to him was a prime example of control-freakery. To outsiders, interviews with the has-been football administrator appeared designed for specific purposes, with clear parameters for questions which could (or as often would not) be answered. In such circumstances, the more combative interviews, e.g. Blatter’s August discussion with the BBC’s Richard Conway, reflected exceptionally well on the media involved.

Now, as Blatter slowly acknowledges being the “former” Fifa president, media access appears as tightly-controlled. He has recently undertaken numerous interviews to launch his new “memoir” (heavy irony, given the corruption about which Blatter claims to have no “memoir” whatsoever). In these softball encounters Blatter claimed credit, often dubiously, for all football’s successes during his scandal-pocked presidency. But he has also regurgitated old excuses for his inactivity in the face of those scandals. And interviewers have rarely sought anything else, lest access be denied in the future. So obvious supplementary questions begged by Blatter’s (non-)answers are unasked and flaws in his arguments unexposed. Here are some examples.

“I don’t know how many have been arrested, they are all Americans, North Americans, South Americans” (Addressing reporters after his Basel University speech, April 15th 2016). A relatively new addition to Blatter’s oeuvre, this links to other Blatter theories. United States bitterness at Qatar winning the right to host the 2022 World Cup, which Blatter and unspecified others apparently earmarked for them; and “Fifa” corruption actually being Confederation corruption, specifically CONCACAF and CONMEBOL, the Americas confederations.

Blatter last week told CNN sports correspondent Alex Thomas that the arrests of last May 27th “was for me a coup d’etat against Fifa” because “the Americans” are “not always happy about what happens somewhere in the world, they try to be the police of the world everywhere.” However, America’s Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) could only investigate transactions made wholly or partly on US soil. CONCACAF’S administrative office was in Miami and New York throughout the investigatory period. And Blatter acknowledged in Basel that many indictable bribes were linked to June’s Copa America Centenario tournament marking the 100th anniversary of CONMEBOL’s Nations’ Championship, with its media and marketing rights boosted by the US being hosts. No surprise then that the indictees were preponderantly “Americans.”

A Basel student asked pertinently: “The FBI investigations showed that CONCACAF and CONMEBOL leaders and former (Fifa) Executive Committee (ExCo) members were accepting bribes in the regions. Do we have to assume that they were doing the same (throughout) Fifa?” The indictments should have triggered similar investigations into parallel transactions by the other confederations. Blatter simply told the Deutsche Presse-Agentur’s Florian Luttike on April 22nd: “In North and South America (bribery) is normal, in Europe it is not normal.” However, in Basel, former International Criminal Court prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo said: “The Panama Papers show that Uefa signed a contract with one of the companies involved in the bribery schemes in South America.” Current Fifa president Gianni Infantino’s was “a lawyer reviewing that (contract).” But even without this headline-grabber, the fact that “a company paying bribes in South America is doing business with Uefa” renders Blatter’s casually borderline-racist assumptions unsafe.

“All those…arrested in Zurich…were arrested by their activities in their confederations and not as Fifa” (BBC interview, Richard Conway, 24th August 2015). Blatter has long-claimed that confederations are separate from Fifa and fall outside his statutory presidential responsibility. Incorrect. Fifa Statutes have stipulated for at least a decade that confederations must “comply with and enforce compliance with the Statutes, regulations and decisions of Fifa; work closely with Fifa in every domain; set up committees that work closely with the corresponding committees at Fifa” and submit their “statutes and regulations…to Fifa for approval.”

No president could competently ensure that confederations “work closely with Fifa in every domain” and be as unaware of confederation activities as Blatter supposedly was.  And Blatter can always be reminded of presidents’ prime statutory responsibility “for relations between Fifa and the Confederations…” After the first Zurich arrests, Blatter said “I know many people hold me ultimately responsible. I cannot monitor everyone all the time. If people want to do wrong they will try to hide it.” “That is weak,” John Oliver moaned, correctly, on his American TV show Last Week Tonight.

Blatter was admitting failure because Fifa Statutes held him ultimately responsible. This admission should have scuppered his 2015 re-election and/or appeared in a resignation speech. They should no longer be permitted to appear in his defence of his presidency. “The president is the only one of the (ExCo) elected by the Congress. All other members are elected by their Confederations. So I am the boss of the government that has not been elected by me. How can I be responsible morally for all the people?” (to Russian news agency TASS, 28th October 2015.) This is among Blatter’s longest-serving and most ridiculous defence. In November 2011, on Al-Jazeera English TV, he said he could not “make the choice of my ministers. The confederations elect them, so I have to take what is there.” And the line re-appeared in an “exclusive” March interview with Qatar-based TV network beIN Sport’s Richard Keys, an unchallenged re-hash of Blatter’s “best” excuses, which had no journalistic merit…as you’d expect from the now sun-tanned, sexist former Sky Sports autocue reader.

Blatter’s “moral” responsibility isn’t the issue. “What morals?” you could ask. And his electorate is irrelevant. If half a parliamentary political party were corrupt in their constituencies and that corruption went unchecked for whole parliaments, the leader’s position would be untenable, regardless of electorate. Blatter part-refuted his logic in 2015’s post-election press conference. “But once they are in and something happens, then they will not stay long,” he said, attempting to sound tough on corruption but exposing his responsibility for confederation representatives’ actions while ExCo members…and overlooking certain crooked former vice-president’s lengthy ExCo stays.

Blatter’s logic unravelled after Uruguyan lawyer Juan Pedro Damiani’s recent resignation from Fifa’s Ethics Committee, a body Blatter championed…until it suspended/banned him. The “Panama Papers” strongly-linked Damiani to a number of Fifa indictees. However, when Blatter was asked if “you could have known what he’s been linked to?” he replied: “No. How could I? Why should I have known? He has been elected by the Congress to…the Ethics Committee.” That Damiani was elected by the same entity as Blatter was suddenly irrelevant.

Anyway, two words could undermine his entire argument. Jerome Valcke is arguably the blackest known mark against Blatter’s presidency. He was sacked as Fifa’s marketing chief in 2006, yet appointed Secretary-General, by Blatter, seven months later before being sacked from that role too. How could Blatter be responsible for Valcke? How could he NOT be? “Who can control 300 million people directly, 1.6 billion indirectly? It’s impossible.” (Conway, above) Impossible, indeed. Which is why no-one ever asked Blatter to “control” all players and fans. He was obliged by statute to “control” the ExCo he presided over. And he was hopeless at that, as he inadvertently admitted to Conway:

“The institution, Fifa, is not corrupt. The corruption is with individuals…there is not a general organised corruption. Have a look at how many members of the executive committee that took the decision on 2nd December 2010 (to award World Cups to Russia and Qatar) are still serving.” Indeed, half the ExCo assigned to take that decision have been suspended, indicted, arrested, are still under investigation or some or all of the above; people who, as Conway said, “sat in the room with you,” including vice-presidents, with whom a president would work with more closely than anyone, bar his secretary-gen…ah… “

“(People) expect you to control your executive committee,” Conway added. “(But) a number have left because of proven or alleged corruption or walked away because of investigations. Yet you were presiding over that organisation the entire time. So, either you knew…and you turned a blind eye to it or you didn’t know…and it shows a level of incompetence that you let this flourish.” Corrupt, complicit in corruption, or incompetent. A failed president, regardless. “I am suspended by the Ethics Committee and the board of appeal has confirmed (this) but (they) said “there is no bribery, there is no corruption.” (Blatter, answering a Basel student’s question about Fifa inaction on…er…Qatari worker exploitation, 15th April 2016)

If patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel, disingenuousness is close behind and Blatter is predictably well-versed in the art. The committees ruled on Blatter’s oddly-delayed £1.3m payment to former Uefa president Michel Platini. And the Appeals Committee “concurred with…the Ethics Committee…that the evidence available in the present case is not sufficient to establish…bribery and corruption.” The payment coincided with Platini’s withdrawal from 2011’s Fifa presidential race…suspicious but not “evidence” of bribery. However, the rulings were not the sweeping exoneration Blatter suggested.

Blatter has disingenuousness ‘previous.’ Throughout the 1990s, sports marketeers International Sports and Leisure (ISL) bribed top Fifa officials, including Blatter’s predecessor president Joao Havelange.  Blatter, Fifa secretary-general or president throughout, knew of (and, according to Andrew Jennings’ book Foul, actually saw) a one million Swiss Francs (CHF1m) payment from ISL to Havelange which landed at Fifa HQ in March 1997. In 2013, Fifa’s Ethics Committee stressed that there were “no indications” of Blatter bribery, but “questioned whether (he) knew or should have known…that ISL had made bribes to other Fifa officials. (His) conduct may have been clumsy…but this does not lead to any criminal or ethical misconduct.”

Blatter claimed exoneration, noting “with satisfaction that this report confirms that: ‘President Blatter’s conduct could not be classified in any way as misconduct’.” However, the case settlement, published in 2010, said “The finding that Fifa had knowledge of the bribery payments” was “not questioned” (my emphasis), adding: “The Chief Financial Officer of Fifa had knowledge of (the CHF1m)” and “P1 would also have known about it.” “P1” was Blatter. In topical vernacular, “he knew.” And the FBI are currently investigating written Havelange claims that “Blatter had full knowledge of all activities described above and was fully apprised to them.” Clumsy, eh?

“I cannot make a comment…because I am involved in all that.” (to Basel students, as above) And finally… Given Blatter’s innocence of everything, it is amazing that he cannot comment on so many matters arising during his presidency because they are under investigation. As he told Sky Sports News on April 21st: “I am also defending Fifa in different cases in different courts. They have asked me in some cases for testimony and in other cases for information. They think that I can explain a little bit what has happened in Fifa.” The Basel quote referred to “This FBI and American justice intervention.” Time to ask HOW Blatter is “involved in all that.” He told the Agence France-Presse news agency on April 16th: “When they need me to defend FIFA, I will be available” for any US trial (“I’m sure that comes with a side order of immunity,” tweeted a cynical ‘Jim C’).

Likewise the case of Valcke. “I am representing FIFA now in this case, so I cannot go into that because I am an active part of this case,” he told SSN’s chief news reporter Kaveh Solhekol. He tried this line on Conway who, as per, had none of it. Conway suggested a “look at the South Africa World Cup in 2010, accusations that votes were bought and paid for.” Blatter declared “this World Cup the cleanest that has ever been done.” Conway replied: “$10m was passed from a Fifa account to…” but Blatter, having entered into this discussion, said: “I don’t enter into this discussion.” Blatter’s expression, and accompanying silence, when Conway asked “why not?” was priceless. The Blatter media circus will continue while the appeals process against his ban does. However, there is dismally little sign that journalists, or more crucially the media outlets employing them, will value the opportunity to expose Blatter’s lies more than access to the reprehensible weasel. We need more of Richard Conway and less of Richard Keys.

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