FIFA’s (Latest) Fortnight of Farce

by | Dec 24, 2015

Mark Murphy’s nearly-new PC recently went wonky, just after a previous cynicism-riddled rant at Fifa. And it took PC World twice as long as initially promised to fix and return it. Are they part of a Fifa conspiracy to shut critics down? Or are they just a bit sh*te? The latter, almost certainly. Still. Fifa, eh??

While Fifa-watchers again focused on Zurich’s Baur au Lac Hotel, Andrew Jennings’ superb tele-journalism and Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini’s football-career death throes (pending appeals), a presidential election continues as if nothing has happened. Meanwhile, German football legend Franz Beckenbauer’s excuses for his dealings with the repugnant Jack Warner redefine absurdity, while one of Warner’s former comrades-in-corruption, “Captain” Horace Burrell, returns as part of a confederation clean-up operation. Oh…and…Brazil’s former football chief contracts aeroplane-based amnesia in front of Brazilian senators, Brooklyn fills up with indicted South American football chiefs and Fifa’s “reforms” increasingly resemble the use of a nut to crack a sledgehammer. Perhaps Blatter should be honorary president of such a palaver.

International politics students will be well-versed in the intricacies of election disputes and vote-rigging. Having learned to consider itself greater than a nation state, under “I am president of everybody” Blatter, Fifa has entered the dispute stage months before there’s any vote to rig.

In fairness to Liberian FA chairman Musa Bility (and who thought it wise to give him a first name ending in “a”?), it is borderline character assassination to be thought to lack sufficient integrity to be a Fifa official these days. Alongside the allegations against some accepted candidates, Bility’s supposed failings seem trivial. So confident is Fifa’s Ad-Hoc election committee in its thought process it has refused “to comment on the specifics of its decision,” although it “explained its considerations in detail” to Bility. “None of the alleged breaches in Liberia mentioned in the decision and the investigative report have ever led to a guilty verdict in the courts of Liberia,” Bility noted, in fluent Blatter-ese, adding: “The ethics probe which resulted in my disqualification is based on information from ‘tabloid-like’ sources that are not considered credible for such an investigation.”

Even allowing for the disingenuousness which plagues people in Bility’s position, he has a point. His ‘problems’ with Liberia’s tax authorities were part of his perceived integrity ‘failings.’ But without kickbacks from $100m TV rights deals to fund financial impropriety, what is a poor senior football official to do? More seriously, the second issue is his six-month suspension by Africa’s football confederation (CAF) in May 2013 after he used confidential meeting minutes in a legal challenge against CAF president Issa Hayatou, the current acting Fifa president. (Apropos of nothing, Hayatou received 100,000 French francs from corrupt and bust sports marketing firm ISL in 1995 and  was reprimanded by the International Olympic Committee for doing so, at the same time a Lamine Diack was “warned” for similar conduct – whatever happened to him?).

Bility believes it unfair that he “should be banned” for a “wrongful sanction” as “the suspension was lifted” after four-and-a-half months. And, again, he has a point. Uefa president Michel Platini could have been a presidential candidate if he had only suffered a 90-day suspension. So, why not Bility? Bility also asked: “Should only the inner chamber of Fifa and not the voting federations know about the integrity of individuals into whose hands the future of football is to be placed?” Whatever the veracity of the ‘tabloid-like’ sourced allegations against Bility, the answer is surely “yes.” These, at least, are questions worth asking. So he has asked the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne, Switzerland. And CAS appear to agree, having given Fifa a deadline of December 18th to come up with an explanation for excluding Bility from the ballot. Bility appeared before the court on December 23rd.

Trinidad’s David Nakhid lost his appeal to CAS on December 14th. The court only re-iterated what was already known about the procedural errors which left Nakhid one short of the required five national FA nominations. However, it promised that the “grounds for the decision” would be “notified to the parties in a few days.” While the election process continues, no candidate could be expected not to campaign. Yet no candidate has made any visible effort to halt the process, which perhaps says more about “integrity” than any integrity “checks.”

Uefa’s Gianni Infantino received the arguably unwanted backing of South America’s confederation, CONMEBOL (CONME for short). “We have spoken to Gianni to set out what is needed,” CONME president Juan Angel Napout said…about a week before his arrest in Zurich. It would be fascinating to know what Napout thought “was needed.” An across-the-board amnesty for indicted South American confederation officials, maybe? Infantino has promised to clean up Fifa from “day one.” He said: “Reforms need to be not only agreed but…implemented as well.” One for the bleedin’ obvious column…but a break from Fifa’s past, where Blatter would announce a new reform committee, suggest some wholly inappropriate members (opera singers and war-mongering American ex-politicians a speciality) and when the world stopped laughing the concept would disappear up his arse, from whence it came.

Infantino also has German FA (DFB) backing. DFB joint-interim-president Rainer Koch replaced Wolfgang Niersbach after Niersbach took “political responsibility” for alleged bribery. And Koch said the DFB’s “stand is firm and we want a European candidate to claim the Fifa presidency.” Asia’s confederation (AFC) has predictably backed Bahraini FA president Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, over the continent’s other candidate, Jordan’s Prince Ali bin Hussein, whose failed “campaign” (quotation marks used advisedly) to oust Blatter in May was so vague it almost wasn’t there. Prince Ali has promised to “open Fifa’s books completely,” which may land him in a race with the FBI, a livelier contest than anything he’s likely to give Salman.

Allegations of collusion in maltreating top Bahraini footballers involved in pro-democracy protests in 2011 have dogged Salman’s campaign, as they will until he produces a better cover story than that which he gave Al-Jazeera TV’s Lee Wellings last week. Wellings read Salman the recently-discovered Bahraini News Agency report on the “formal committee to investigate all breaches made by those who work for sports entities during the unfortunate events” (!) which “Sheikh Salman, the secretary-general of Supreme Council for youth and sports will chair.” Salman began his retort with “let’s make it clear,” which is never followed by clarity. “We as a body cannot interfere in non-sporting matters,” he claimed, neglecting to identify the “we.” “Bahraini law states that you cannot look into things which are not related to sports. The Bahraini FA never took any decision unrelated to football, whether from 2011 or before or up to now.”

Well…OK, except that the allegations referred to the new, “formal, investigative” committee, not the FA. Wellings asked: “Why was it announced that you would be chairing a committee? Did that work not happen?” Salman replied: “Constitutionally, it cannot,” pulling off the neat trick of begging the first question he was asked. “We had an independent report done about all the incidents that happened politically in 2011 and not a single word has been mentioned about sports and the Bahraini FA, or even my name.” Again, “we” remained undefined. He concluded that those writing “such wrong information” have “lost their credibility (with) most of the people of Bahrain, believe me,” something which may concern these writers less than he thinks.

With such confusing, contradictory responses, it is little wonder that so many people don’t “believe” him. Africa’s confederation, as per, could be backing anyone. And South Africa’s Tokyo Sex Whale is not a favourite.  Mninawa Ntloko wrote in South Africa’s Business Day newspaper on December 2nd: “(His) critics, & there is no shortage of them in South Africa, insist that Sexwale comes across as aloof and arrogant,” while South Africa’s players’ union (Sapa) likened him to the “suits” who run football associations “for their personal gain.” Undeterred, the Sex Whale produced a manifesto full of talking/laughing points (“not that anyone cares for manifestos in the wheeling and dealing world of Fifa elections,” wrote Antoinette Miller in South Africa’s online newspaper the Daily Maverick on December 1st). Alongside the natural “more World Cup places for Africa,” “stamping out racism and the trafficking of young footballers,” the Sex Whale said advertising should be permitted on national team jerseys. “There is space there for much value worth millions of dollars which will be destined directly into FAs’ coffers.”

Maybe he was unaware of the damning November report from global anti-corruption campaigners Transparency International which showed that “81% of FAs have no financial records publicly available” while only 14 of Fifa’s 209 FAs published “the minimum amount of information necessary to let people know what they do…(and)…how they spend their money.” Or maybe he’s just an idiot. As Miller noted, offering “direct tele-contact with myself” to “every FA president” is “probably not the kind of thing that’s going to win him an election.” Not a Fifa one, certainly. And the Sex Whale’s electoral prospects, such as they are, cannot have been helped by his recent appearance in front of a US grand jury to testify about the $10m alleged bribe paid to the repugnant Jack Warner to vote for South Africa to host 2010’s World Cup. The Sex Whale, a member of South Africa’s bid team, was “only” a witness. “The FBI said he needed to appear,” said a Sex Whale spokesperson. Who dare predict what “needed to appear” was a euphemism for?

Meanwhile, campaigning organisation Change Fifa tweeted that French candidate Jerome Champagne was “talking out of both sides of his mouth” with his claims that whilst “there’s definitely a stain on the World Cup” because of “what has happened in the past weeks and months,” he didn’t want Qatar stripped of the 2022 finals, despite lauding the tournament’s “worldly communion” in “a world that’s so unfair, unequal, which separates people between passports, social classes, religions, colours of skins, gender, whatever sexual orientation.” I.e., a world like…Qatar. And if that came out of both sides of his month, the following emerged lower down: “Whatever happened in the past, I’m sure that Mr Blatter will…be better judged by history for what he did for football rather than the media do today.” Champagne correctly observed that “everyone” in the presidential race “has been close to (Blatter).” But he defended this, suggesting that the new president must be “someone who has knowledge of Fifa” and that “no-one is fully independent of anything.”

There have, of course, been 400+ US Department of Justice pages on the results of some “knowledge of Fifa.” Among the indicted Fifa officials fighting extradition to the US (the “Brooklyn Dodgers” anyone?), the least surprising name is the repugnant Warner. More surprising is the existence of a genuine case for the Trinidadian former Fifa vice-president’s legal team to request a judicial review of Trinidad’s attempts to extradite him. This case will be heard in January. And the authorities appear to have cut legal corners in trying to be rid of the man. So even though Warner is employing every delaying tactic in the book, some of the delays are justifiable. In his “voluminous” judicial review application Warner revealed fears that he will “go broke” as a result of his current legal woes. “I am concerned that the amount of money it will take to defend myself in relation to these charges will drain all of my resources and leave me in a parlous financial state during my last years,” he said, adding “when I am found not guilty,” just in case anyone felt like taking him seriously.

Local press sympathy has been in short supply, while a blog on the Wired 868 website simply took the p**s. “Novelist Stephen King could not dream up a character like Warner if he tried,” it read. “And what does Warner do when he is kicked out of football and has to spend the rest of his days resisting extradition? He opens his own TV station. Presumably he bribes himself these days, just for old time’s sake.” But Warner’s old confederation, Concacaf, have p**s-taking form of their own, as most recently displayed when they appointed veteran Jamaican football administrator “Captain” Horace Burrell to an interim management committee until its congress can elect a new president to replace the arrested Honduran Alfredo Hawit.

As detailed by Andrew Jennings in his 2006 book Foul, Burrell was instrumental in some curious vote-rigging at Fifa’s 1996 congress when he “made” his then-partner Vincy Jalal Haiti’s delegate, replacing the absent Dr Jean-Marie Kyss and without his knowledge, let alone authority. Burrell was also banned from all football activities for six months in October 2011, for ethics breaches. Last week, Burrell told the Jamaican press that he was not interested in running for the Concacaf presidency. Pity. He seems ideally qualified for the role. Warner, meanwhile, has cropped up in the on-going scandals surrounding Germany’s bid to host the 2006 World Cup.

German magazine Der Spiegel last week revealed details of the “incentives” offered to Warner for his vote, including the inevitable supply of World Cup tickets (“1,000 of the most expensive category”) for him to tout. Warner last month denied signing such a contract, which made its appearance and that of his signature on it as inevitable as the ticket supply. Beckenbauer, meanwhile, said that not only had he signed such a document but that he might have done so without reading it. “We went to the limits,” Beckenbauer said, when asked to justify the bid’s dealings with Warner. “There was no ethics committee…they were different times.” Worse still: “When I have confidence in someone, I sign, without asking. I have a clear conscience.” Confidence in someone? Jack Warner??? The repugnant Jack bl**dy Warner??!!?? There are no words.

Amid the flurry of Fifa-related legal proceedings, it is a wonder no-one has yet pleaded “guilty but insane.” The thought may have crossed the minds of Brazilian senators listening to Marco Polo del Nero, the latest on the conveyor belt of indicted Brazilian football chiefs, when he addressed the on-going senate investigation into how Brazilian football is & has been (mis)managed. Del Nero, one of December’s indictees, resigned from Fifa’s executive committee last month, having not left Brazil since returning there after predecessor Brazilian chief Jose Maria Marin’s May indictment and arrest. His senate performance (and it was a “performance”) was captured in a series of increasingly-disbelieving tweets by excellent Bloomberg business magazine journalist Tariq Panja. Del Nero denied meeting sports marketer Jose Hawila, from whom, the indictment claims, he took bribes. He had remarkable difficulty in remembering the origin of considerable payments into his and his girlfriend’s bank accounts and “forgot” he was ever in Barbados on Brazilian federation business. He also had no explanations for never auditing CBF finances (“he shrugs” – Panja) and when asked “if the CBF should submit to outside oversight” he called the football organisation of the most fanatical football nation on earth “a private company.”

Selective amnesia? Resistance to outside oversight? Fifa have missed out on a star turn there. Barely a day goes by now without a report on extradition proceedings against a continental American football chief (what would be found if other continents’ authorities were to dare look so closely at their confederations?). There’s barely a South American country left without a football chief at some level either heading for Brooklyn, trying to avoid heading for Brooklyn, or heading home to face legal music there (Del Nero has probably already been to Brooklyn…but forgot). A whole new article awaits, by which time who knows who else might have been nicked. Argentina is out of this particular loop, contenting itself with a 38-38 tie in the first democratic vote for its president for 36 years. All well and good…until you discover there were only 75 eligible voters.

Vote early, vote often, as they say… Shoved to the background were the latest Fifa reform proposals, which were exposed for the insignificant tinkering they are. After all, how much of the alleged wrongdoing would not have happened if the reformed rules were in place? Changing the Executive Committee’s name to “Council,” won’t make an official refuse a $1m kickback. And so it goes on…and on…and on. Material for the next Fifa article piles up…and I can barely keep up. When many of you read this, swathes of it will be out-of-date. And Blatter and Platini show no signs whatsoever of going anywhere quietly. See you all very soon.

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