Brought to you by the man who didn’t give a fcuk what ‘Back to the Future 2’ got right.
As Fifa’s list of suspensions catches Lee Cattermole’s, there can be few surprises left. Maybe only Fifa’s Ethics Committee (EthCo) suspending Sir Bobby Charlton would raise eyebrows among increasingly world-wearied observers. After all, former Fifa translator Scott Burnett tweeted on Friday that “I wrote the minutes of the Fifa Executive Committee (ExCo) meetings from 2001 to 2010. I was instructed several times to misrepresent discussions” and more people slated him for waiting so long to confess (“nine years on the gravy train later”) than asked who instructed him, how and when.
Fifa’s suddenly turncoat EthCo was impolitely quick to take advantage of the new freedoms they were given by Tuesday’s ExCo meeting. Within 24 hours, Franz Beckenbauer was challenging Michel Platini as “best ex-footballer” to be mired in corruption controversy. Suspended alongside “Der Kaiser” was Spain’s serial vice-president (Uefa AND Fifa, if you please) Angel Maria Villar, whose appearance on the EthCo list fully explained why he was the only ExCo vote against the EthCo’s new powers to tell tales on naughty Fifa boys.
Beckenbauer received a Blatter (90-day suspension) last year for non-co-operation with American legal eagle Michael Garcia’s infamous inquiry into the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding processes, which knocked him into co-operation. Reports suggest he and Villar are up before the beak this time for similar reasons. However, the EthCo statement merely noted that proceedings against them “have already been passed on to (its) adjudicatory chamber,” a stage further than proceedings against other, more familiar names: Brazilian Ricardo Teixeira, the Cayman Islands’ Jeffrey Webb, Nigerian Amos Adamu, Paraguayan Nicolas Leoz and Uruguayan Eugenio Figueredo.
The statement caveated the EthCo’s new powers to name and sort-of-shame, whilst maintaining presumptions of innocence, citing considerations such as “the personality rights of the parties involved,” a fascinating, possibly psychological concept in the case of Jeffrey “I’ll pay my bail with a Ferrari and a Rolex” Webb. However, “other parties” are also “affected by the proceedings.” More names to come, then. Although possibly not such big names, as the EthCo was, “for procedural reasons” only able to “comment” on proceedings “regarding members of the ExCo, the Secretary-General, the candidates for the FIFA Presidency and confederation representatives in leading positions.” Hence, the above list. Just as well, maybe. Eleven of the 22 ExCo members who voted for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosts are now under investigation or already out the Fifa door. Any more and surely the credibility of the votes for Russia and Qatar would be completely shot, making refusals to “revisit” them impossible to justify.
Speaking of shot credibility. Fifa’s 2016 Reform Committee. Its reform proposals more resembled a lightweight executive summary than the whole damn thing. Barely more than 1500 words, covering “principles of governance” and “principles of leadership,” the latter including plenty of guff about “effecting cultural change.” Specific proposals such as the annual “disclosure of individual compensation” for all executives from “independent, standing and judicial committee” chairs all the way up to president” go as far as any reform campaigner could wish. But many fail the ultimate test, whether they would have stopped Blatter in his tracks. A 12-year limit on presidential terms is largely meaningless, forcibly removing megalomaniacs but giving them time to ensure they are succeeded by one of “their” people. The Fifa “council” would take Fifa’s “executive powers” from an ExCo limited to “strategic matters.” But the president would still preside over both.
An age limit of 74 would have cramped the style of both Blatter and Havelange. But only after 17 and 22 years in power respectively, while neither transformed Jekyll-and-Hyde-style from enlightened leader to power-crazed lunatic on their 74th birthday. And would “fully independent” committees be that radical a change, given the nature of the “independently” chaired Reform Committee itself. Only a cynic would entertain such doubts without having clear alternative strategies. And journalist Keir Radnedge rightly identified “a few flashes of light glimmering out from the black hole” of Fifa’s leadership.
But experience has taught us all to be cynics, especially as the current ExCo will decide which proposals to put to the “elective” congress, confirmed this week for February 26 2016, and 75% of the 209 member associations would have to accept them in order to change Fifa’s statutes. The same 209 associations which re-elected Blatter as president this year. Reminders of the integrity of that decision pock-marked the past week as the Blatter/Platini show rumbled on. Bernie Ecclestone, the diminutive F1 boss with a diminutive intellect, backed Blatter who should be permanently barred from office if he even remotely welcomed or solicited it.
Platini told French newspaper Le Monde that Blatter was “trying to kill me politically” by revealing the payment to investigators. “It came out after I asked him to step down and said I would stand (so) I have my suspicions,” he said, as the world checked for a French translation of “no s**t Sherlock.” Platini was given hope of resurrecting his presidential bid, if not its chance of success. Fifa’s ExCo stated that if his ban was “lifted or expired” before the election, Fifa’s “Ad-Hoc electoral committee would decide, depending on the respective exact point in time, on how to proceed with his candidacy.” However, Fifa’s head of financial compliance Domenico Scala said Platini “should not have asked for a prescribed amount” for his Fifa work from 1999 to 2002 as that made it “a classic conflict of interest.” Also the “payment should have been recorded in the accounts in 2002 and subsequent years.” Scala also heads the…ad-hoc electoral committee. Adieu, Michel.
Last weekend, revelations emerged about Germany’s campaign strategy for winning the right to hold the 2006 World Cup. And denials and counter-accusations have flowed from the Fatherland ever since. Deutscher Fussball Bund (DFB) president Wolfgang Niersbach “categorically” ruled out the existence of a “slush fund” to buy votes for the bid. And 2006 organising committee member Fedor Radmann was “prepared to say under oath” that “the bid committee never bribed anyone.” Yet when Andrew Jennings wrote to Radmann, for his recently-published Fifa expose The Dirty Game, Radmann even denied he was…Fedor Radmann. So maybe his denials are just some sort of nervous tic.
International Olympic Committee chief Thomas Bach called for a “prompt and full” investigation of the affair before anyone could note that he sat on Germany’s 2006 “Supervisory Board” before becoming head of Germany’s Olympic Sports Federation that year and thought; “Mmmmm…” However, Frankfurt’s state prosecutor’s office announced that they had “initiated” a prompt and full “monitoring process” rather than an investigation. On Friday, Niersbach’s predecessor DFB president Theo Zwanziger told Der Speigel magazine: “There was definitely a slush fund in the German bid. And it is clear that the present DFB president did not learn about it a couple of weeks ago, as he claims, but has known about it at least since 2005. The way I see it, Niersbach is lying.” Zwanziger and Niersbach “have had several bitter feuds over the years.”
They are about to have another, and after a week of near-silence Beckenbauer’s memories of the alleged slush fund monies miraculously returned. The transfer of 6.7m euros to Fifa was “a mistake,” which no-one is denying. It was a Fifa suggestion “that in today’s eyes should be rejected.” And as if we weren’t already in Weird City, Beckenbauer claimed the money was paid “in order to get a (170m euro) subsidy from Fifa” for the World Cup organisational budget. “There were no votes bought in order to get the nod” for the competition. Beckenbauer took a week to “remember” this but didn’t say why Fifa suggested it. And Niersbach said he didn’t know. So…erm…
But back to the future. Fifa has been left with an idiosyncratic field of presidential candidates. The most important thing to note is that “Sexwale” is NOT pronounced “Sex Whale” (to the disappointment of 12-year-olds of all ages everywhere) but “Seck-Whalley.” Perhaps the second most important thing to note is the depressingly but unsurprisingly high “Blatter loyalty” rating of the list. Especially after South Korean long-time Blatter opponent Chung Mong-Joon had to give up on his ambitions. Zurich’s District Court rejected his request for “provisional measures” to be imposed on Fifa to lift his six-year ban from football. It found no “indication of a defective procedure.” And his request could not be “upheld on procedural grounds” as the EthCo did not issue a reasoned decision.”
Chung complained that Fifa “continues to sabotage my candidacy” and claimed to be in a “double-bind,” which sounded like a wrestling hold: “I cannot maintain my candidacy because of the unjust sanctions, but I cannot appeal (them) as I do not have the reasoned decision that FIFA’s EthCo has refused to send me.” Chung formally withdrew, blaming “the EthCo’s unjust sanctions” for missing the deadline. He promised, though, “to continue to speak out frankly about Fifa’s problems.” A quick glance at the mountainous material on his new blog/website mjfairplay.com suggests that he will keep that promise. At length.
Asia will, however, have a candidate in another demonstrable “Blatter loyalist,” Bahrain’s Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, despite intensive and ongoing campaigning against his candidacy from human rights groups. The unlikely-sounding “Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain” (ADHRB) contacted Fifa’s ExCo to “respectfully request” that “Sheikh Al Khalifa’s” candidacy be “terminated” because of “credible evidence” that he “aided and abetted crimes against humanity” while Bahrain’s FA president. ADHRB had explained this when they wrote to Blatter in 2013 “expressing our deep concerns about allegations of unethical behaviour” against Sheikh Salman after Bahraini pro-democracy protests in 2011. Fifa had “initiated an investigation in 2011” into alleged detention and torture of protesting Bahraini footballers but “ostensibly dropped it… after many of the players were released from prison.”
Human Rights Watch subsequently posted on the wonderfully-named Twitter spin-off “twitlonger” that “electing a member of Bahrain’s royal family…will only further tarnish Fifa’s image” and added, correctly, that “this is far more serious than bungs & brown envelopes.” Also on social media last week was an intriguing excerpt from 2011 ESPN E60 documentary Taken/Athletes of Bahrain, including an interview with national team star Alaa Hubail who was “effectively banished from the kingdom” after his high-profile role in the protests. Bahrain’s manager in 2011, former Leicester boss Peter Taylor, claimed never to have seen Hubail play or know anything about him. The documentary attributed this to Hubail’s banishment, inferring that he was a “non-person.” But the concept of Taylor having no idea is not unfamiliar to many of you, I’m sure.
The pressure on Sheikh Salman intensifies. The Guardian’s consistently excellent Owen Gibson revealed that, according to a 2011 document carelessly still available in Arabic on the official Bahrain News Agency website, Salman “headed” a “special investigations committee to look into violations committed by those who affiliate to the sport movement during the deplorable events in Bahrain recently” (the pro-democracy protests). A tweet posted yesterday suggested that “human rights questions will dog (Salman) until February 26th.” Four more months, then, unless Salman tires of the pressure. Go to it, people.
Despite three Europeans seeking nominations, Uefa have only endorsed the latest declared candidate, its very own slaphead Secretary-General Gianni Infantino, the Italian who is probably the most familiar Uefa face after Platini, after presiding over various Uefa competition draws. Blatter largely eschewed Uefa support over the years. So this hasn’t deterred two French candidates. Ex-international and long-time poseur (on and off the pitch) David Ginola and former Fifa Deputy General Secretary Jerome Champagne.
Ginola’s preposterous bid “required” an election delay, which he said immediately after Fifa confirmed there wouldn’t be one. His formal statement claimed “FIFA has no credibility, authority or mandate to hold an election while there are ongoing multi-national criminal & internal investigations of key executives.” Ginola was backed by bookmakers Paddy Power when failing to obtain sufficient nominations in May…which needs no further comment. Champagne also lacked sufficient nominations in May, having addressed the January launch of campaign group NewFifaNow as a potential candidate. His manifesto mixes psychobabble with psychedelia, promising amid the management-speak “stability, reconciliation, competency, modesty, willingness to listen, inclusion, openness, knowledge of FIFA, of football and the world.” Bloody hippy hasn’t a hope.
Last-minute though his announcement was, Infantino’s candidacy was well trailed as his bald pate was spotted in Qatar on October 15th. The story from “a source close to” Infantino was that this was “a family trip” (Qatar has an Italian community?). But when he reappeared in the Qatari capital Doha last week, the story that he was “taking soundings” about the election “from influential Asian football figures” just edged ahead in the credibility stakes. Uefa’s ExCo actually made Infantino’s candidacy announcement, 150 borderline-hagiographic words suggesting that the presidency might as well be his by acclamation, citing his administrative genius, his “refreshing and informed voice” and his “long-time (advocacy)” of “the need for change” at Fifa, which has largely been obscured by his six years as the semi-disgraced Platini’s Uefa right-hand man. So, the most-heavily scrutinised Fifa presidential election is about to begin. And whatever happens over the next four months, you can be sure Back to the bloody Future 2 didn’t “get it right.”
Social media quotes in this article came from the NewFifaNow and changeFifa twitter accounts, both of which perform excellent monitoring work on Fifa stories.
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