They like an oxymoron, do Fifa. Weeks of headlines about their “Ethics” Committee. Weeks of bluster by their in-house “Independent” Reform Committee. And last week their Ad-Hoc Election Committee embarked on a ten-day “integrity check” on the presidential hopefuls whose five or more nominations from among world football’s 209 member associations were accepted by the October 26th deadline. It will surprise no-one that finding integrity, never mind checking it, has proved problematic. Indeed, the nominations process itself is undergoing an integrity check of sorts after the elimination from the race of Trinidad and Tobago’s David Nakhid.
Nakhid, a former Trinidad international midfielder, was seen by many as a genuine pro-reform candidate (pro-genuine reform, if you prefer). The Mail on Sunday newspaper’s Nick Harris called him “a breath of fresh air” after “watching him on the platform and speaking to him” at the annual conference of sports governance campaigning organisation Play the Game in Denmark last week. However, this praise was couched in a debate about Harris’s discovery of Nakhid’s name on a list of people who received money in 2009 from Qatari former Fifa bigwig Mohamed Bin Hammam, at a time when Bin Hammam’s money was touring the world in support of Qatar’s bid to host the 2022 World Cup.
Nakhid denied knowledge of the $22,000 he supposedly received, insisting he had never met Bin Hammam. Well “he would say that, wouldn’t he?” and “he didn’t have to meet the man to take his money, modern technology and all…” But he told Harris he was “ready to show my accounts to anyone” and, responding to what he saw as inferences than the money had helped fund his presidential bid, he said: “If I was thinking about the 2015 presidency back in 2009 then I have a lot of vision.” Harris insisted, though, that “paperwork I’ve got shows that someone called David Nakhid was among recipients of money from Mohamed Bin Hammam in 2009 & that Nakhid denies ever meeting him. That is the story.” Odd. Harris is one of the best sports journalists in the UK, particularly on sports finance. But there seems no reason why Nakhid should have been a beneficiary of Bin Hammam’s largesse in 2009, especially as Trinidad’s vote for the 2022 World Cup venue world-infamously belonged to the repugnant Jack Warner.
All this is currently irrelevant, as Nakhid failed to satisfy Fifa that he had received the required nominations to be a candidate. He obtained five. But the United States Virgin Islands (USVI) nominated two candidates, rendering both nominations invalid under election regulations. The reasons for this both lack and defy explanation, there is only one presidential vacancy after all. And Nakhid claims he was denied the required information in time to ensure he had five valid and timeous nominations. Respected Trinidad journalist Lasana Liburd wrote that on October 23rd, Election Committee chair Domenico Scala requested Nakhid’s letter of support from the USVI. But this “effectively doomed” presidential campaign as the committee “already had a letter of support from USVI president Hillaren Frederick for another candidate” and neglected to tell Nakhid, leaving him one nomination short as the deadline passed.
Nakhid is therefore appealing to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, as electoral regulations permit, because Scala “failed to ensure a fair, equitable & transparent electoral process, due to its apparent failure to relay vital info to (him),” thereby failing in its “perceived duty” to all candidates.” Nakhid smells conspiracy in the actions of Frederick, Scala and Harris, a view which has gained considerable traction due to the internal politics of the Caribbean Football Union (CFU), of which the UCVI and Trinidad are both members, and what Trinidadians strongly perceive as Fifa’s Uefa-centricity.
The latter sits uneasily with many of Sepp Blatter’s public pronouncements since he “laid down” his presidential “mandate” in June and particularly since his 90-day suspension from all football activity (bar talking about Fifa politics at every available opportunity, it would seem). And one comment on Liburd’s article called Andrew Jennings “a paid mercenary…a tool of the English FA’s propaganda machinery (with) no credibility in football.” A theory I’ll let you ponder at your leisure.
Maybe Nakhid should have made the ballot. In August, he was publicly backed by CFU president Gordon Derrick. And while Derrick told Liburd that “the CFU does not vote as a bloc anymore” as “it did under Jack Warner, who was known to victimise associations that did not toe the line” Nakhid should have been able to obtain five nominations from the 25 CFU FAs. But whatever the truth, Nakhid’s absence leaves the presidential field packed with Fifa insiders, past and present, and demonstrable Blatter loyalists. Last Sunday, the Observer newspaper gave each candidate a “fresh start” rating out of 10.
Prince Ali bin al-Hussein, the Jordanian who lost meekly to Blatter in May, received four, Uefa Secretary-General Gianni Infantino scraped a two while the others scored in binary numbers. And while Ali was declared “anti-Blatter,” the paper overlooked his 2011 election as Fifa’s Asian vice-president with Blatter’s patronage. Tokyo Sexwale, the Japanese-wrestling nickname candidate, Jerome Champagne and Sheikh Salman bin-Ebrahim al-Khalifa have previous for pro-Blatter leanings, the first two since Blatter’s suspension. Sexwale criticised “sponsor activism” for forcing Blatter to step down immediately, calling it “close to appointing the next president.” Champagne claimed Blatter had “football and Fifa at heart” and is “very hard-working.” Salman, meanwhile, allowed Blatter to address April’s Asian Confederation’s congress while denying his then sole election opponent Prince Ali the same opportunity.
Pressure continues to mount on Salman, with his fierce denials of complicity in human rights abuses in his native Bahrain having approximately zero impact. Bahraini acronyms BIRD and ADHRB made formal requests to Scala, busy checking candidates for “integrity” remember, and Fifa’s Ethics Committee to have Salman jettisoned from the ballot “as he fails all aspects of the integrity check required for the position.” Official Bahraini government documentation, unearthed by the Guardian newspaper, revealed the existence of what a Salman spokesman euphemistically called a “fact-finding committee in relation to the events (pro-democracy demonstrations) of 2011.” The spokesman insisted it “was never formally established and never conducted any business whatsoever.” But while minuted references to “Item 3: Identification, arrest and torture of demonstrating athletes, ACTION: SS” proved elusive, documents emerged detailing the decision to “levy fines, suspensions and demotions against six clubs” deemed to have participated in the protests.
As Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) advocacy director Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei said: “Salman’s involvement in human rights violations is well-documented and comes straight from the horse’s mouth.” Whether this will cut any ice with integrity checkers, or the 209 elective congress delegates remains to be seen. Lower level doubts have emerged about Mosima Gabriel “Tokyo” Sexwale, beyond the Blatter stuff and his closeness to the repugnant Warner. Much has been made of his prison time in the company of Nelson Mandela and his 1970s political activism. Much is being made of his subsequent wealth accumulation through Africa’s mining industry and his time in the company of somewhat less illustrious characters.
South Africa’s Mail and Guardian newspaper ran an editorial on October 30th referencing Sexwale’s “opaque and controversial business dealings”, claiming that his “secretive style” made “a jarring contrast with his pious calls for transparency and accountability in world football.” It also questioned his business relationships with Dan Gertler and Walter Hennig, accused of exploitative interests in Democratic Republic of Congo and Guinea mining industries respectively. His relationship with Gertler, via his Mvelaphanda Holdings investment vehicle, was described as “a complicated financial” one involving “a web of offshore vehicles in…financial secrecy havens.”
Then there is Sexwale’s time as South Africa’s Alan Sugar and Donald Trump, telling contestants in the country’s version of television disease The Apprentice “you’re dismissed.” No-one seems entirely sure whether to file this with the Mandela or the Gertler stuff. Either way, this will surely attract Sexwale’s detractors and, according to the Mail and Guardian, Mvelaphanda has already attracted US anti-corruption authorities, although they also quote his spokesman, Peter-Paul Ngwenya claiming, correctly: “All these things remain allegations” while adding: “From where I’m sitting, he is as clean as a whistle.” Meanwhile, Uefa Secretary-General and world-renowned competition draw specialist Gianni Infantino has received mixed blessings of support from former Portuguese international, and briefly presidential candidate Luis Figo and…Russia. Good luck with that, Gianni.
However, if any candidate fails any “integrity check” by this Fifa regime, it will come as a surprise. Not least because old habits continue dying hard elsewhere. The much-vaunted “independent” reforms have predictably ground into the mud. Even the Reform Committee’s weak-as-p**s proposals published last month have gone too far for its chief, Francois “Blatter has been unfairly treated” Carrard. Carrard told news agency Reuters that “offering limited reforms first with an eye to presenting deeper changes down the line is the practical way forward.” But in a statement that would have to have lost a lot in translation before approaching credibility, Carrard warned against “over-simplistic, Western ideas about corporate governance.” He did not elaborate on which ideas he found “over-simplistic.” Or “western.” And we are left to wonder what could be more simplistic than his committee’s proposals and its semi-meaningless guff about “cultural” change.
The “other” “independent” reform suggestions, proposed by Fifa “ethics and compliance” chief Scala before he took responsibility for ad-hoc elections, are destined for similar dilution to the point of utter ineffectiveness. Kuwaiti Reform Committee member Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah suggested that “40%” of Scala’s proposals could be rejected even before leaving the committee stage. Ahmad is routinely labelled a “top power brokers in global sport” and this week he expressed hopes for “a co-ordination” between European and Asian candidates Infantino and Salman to “find a solution” should his favoured candidate, the suspended Platini, be unable to stand. Ahmad did not specify what such back-room dealing…sorry…”co-ordination” was meant to solve. But this attitude, his Robert Plant tribute act hairstyle and his suggestion that “just because we (Fifa) are in trouble doesn’t mean we have to kill everything” suggests a man not exactly suited to a radical reform process.
Blatter would have been pleased to hear all this. Which would need no further comment but for yet more “revelations” about his reasons for merely “laying down his mandate” in June. Outspoken (polite term) “Swiss entrepreneur” and self-styled Blatter buddy Christian Constantin “let fall”, wrote Keir Radnedge in World Soccer magazine, annual salary figures for both Blatter and suspended Fifa Secretary-General Jerome Valcke in a Swiss television interview, after revealing Blatter’s hopes that he could “pick up his mandate” again in February. Constantin said Blatter was on “close to” eight million euro-a-year and Valcke was on “nearly” five. Nice work even if you are suspended from it on full pay. And he added that Blatter planned to “use his influence with the federations to block access to five nominations to all candidates apart from Michel Platini…and then bring down Michel through the ethics committee,” leaving Blatter as “the only survivor in the midst of all the chaos.” As I suspected…
Constantin has motives for upsetting the football authority apple-cart. He owns and presides over Swiss club Sion, who lost a lengthy and costly legal battles with both Fifa and Uefa in 2011 “trying to overturn a transfer market ban.” Still, Blatter is unlikely to let such “revelations” go unchallenged if untrue, having kept a low profile…in all the papers. During a Lunch with Financial Times interview Blatter blamed the “governmental interference of (French president) Nicolas Sarkozy” for ruining his “diplomatically-arranged” plan to send the 2022 World Cup to America. “If you see my face when I opened (the envelope) I was not the happiest man to say it is Qatar,” Blatter lied (I’ve looked. He smiled). Blatter also regaled us with his family principles, including (don’t laugh) “only take money if you earn it” and “do not give money to anybody to obtain the advantage. Principles I have followed since I was 12.” A bit rich, you might think. But, “no”, Blatter said when asked if he was a rich man, a claim perhaps slightly undermined when he left the restaurant at the end of the lunch/interview “and disappeared into a black Mercedes.”
Meanwhile, “Fifa life” continues. The DFB (German FA) HQ and the homes of senior DFB officials past and present were raided by police and tax inspectors as part of an investigation into “suspected tax evasion” relating to 6.7m euro Germany’s World Cup organising committee gave Fifa in 2000, just before Germany won the vote to host the 2006 World Cup; a payment German legend Franz Beckenbauer oh-so-convincingly called a “mistake,” after “revelations” in Der Speigel magazine. The DFB is not under investigation and it and Fifa are holding internal inquiries in which we can all have faith, I’m sure. But DFB president Wolfgang Niersbach, his predecessor Theo Zwanziger and former General Secretary Horst Schmidt, “who all held senior positions” in the organising committee, are being probed. Niersbach and Schmidt have taken a vow of silence to delight a Trappist monk. Zwanziger was a tad more forthcoming: “(I want) the truth to finally come out & not by an investigation carried out by the DFB. I am totally relaxed. What else might come out of it we will see but it is better this way than through some kind of investigating committees by people who are involved.”
Also helping the authorities with their inquiries are Swiss banks Credit Suisse (CS) and UBS. CS are under Swiss and US investigation into “individuals and entities” linked to “the May 20 indictment.” Yep, that one. UBS said it “and reportedly numerous other financial institutions” had “received inquiries from authorities” about “accounts relating to FIFA and other constituent soccer associations and related persons and entities.” When Swiss Attorney General Michael Lauber said in September that investigations linked to the indictment were “not even at half-time,” it seems he meant it. Speaking of the indictment, indicted Brazilian football’s ex-big cheese Jose Maria Marin pleaded not guilty in a Brooklyn, New York court to bribery charges connected to the granting of media rights to various South American tournaments, including Brazil’s version of the FA Cup. Marin is accused of receiving a cut of the, ulp, $110m paid in bribes. That’s £71m. Reuters reported that during the hearing the 83-year-old “appeared to have trouble standing.”
David Nakhid knows how that feels.
Next week’s Fifa week: Why the Qatari-funded “International Centre for Sports Security” is every bit as dodgy as the most cynical of you could ever imagine. Chuck Blazer to be sentenced? And… whatever else the week brings to, or forth from, Fifa. Doubtless including more Blatter “revelationzzzzzzzzzzzzz.”
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