In the week we discovered that his representatives can’t even be truthful about whether he was in hospital, Sepp Blatter will at least be happy with his list of potential successors. Fifa’s Ad-hoc Election Committee (AEC) decided that integrity was not an issue for five presidential campaigners. Alongside an Italian, who will withdraw in favour of Michel Platini if the latter’s suspension from football activities is lifted before the 26th February election, will be:
A Bahraini Blatter supporter facing human rights questions; a South African Blatter supporter facing mining industry exploitation questions; a Jordanian prince (ah…the people’s game) elected to Fifa’s Executive Committee (ExCo) with Blatter’s covert backing and a former Fifa deputy secretary-general who was once what Andrew Jennings’ book Foul called “an astute behind-the-scenes fixer” for…Blatter.
Trinidad’s David Nakhid did not reach the integrity check. He appealed this to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) on Friday 13th November. You fear the date may be appropriate for the luckless former international midfielder. Liberian FA president Musa Bility did not survive the integrity check. His public anti-Blatter stances over many years were not among the AEC’s published reasons for this because, in keeping with Fifa’s new commitment to transparency, there…weren’t any.
In 2011, Bility, Liberia and other West African nations diverged from African Confederation (CAF) support for Blatter’s re-election. “Blatter has had his reasonable share of power,” Bility noted, correctly. “Besides, Bin Hammam offers a better platform…(for)…football development in Liberia.” Liberia, of course, never got the chance to vote for the now-disgraced Qatari. Bility claimed the AEC acted on a six-month ban by CAF in 2013, for “violating statutes relating to the use of confidential documents” (CAF meeting minutes). He claimed the ban was for campaigning to “prevent rules” on CAF presidential election procedures “being arbitrarily violated.”
Anti-corruption sports lawyer David W Larkin said that if this was true “then Fifa candidate integrity screening has explaining to do.” The Press Association’s Martyn Zeigler added that if it was “due to the trumped-up CAF ban” it was “a(nother) joke.” However, Bility has a history of adjacency to corruption scandals linked to his work as football administrator and business enterprise owner. His defence against one allegation of defrauding the government of $350,000 in taxes was that he only defrauded $180,000. Bility’s opposition to Blatter may have, ahem, ‘influenced’ matters. Yet, for all their unhelpful secrecy, the AEC might have this one right. After all, does Fifa need an African presidential candidate with a questionable business and financial record? In totally-unconnected news, South African Tokyo Sexwale passed the integrity check.
The acceptance of Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, seems equally questionable, as the “integrity checks” carried out by Fifa’s oxymoronic Ethics Committee included “a review of media reports concerning potential red flags, including “human rights violations.” The media have reported more red flags than a North Korean Workers’ Party rally against Salman’s human rights record. But the Ethics Committee saw none. Despite receiving a 22-page dossier detailing reports by the official Bahraini News Agency of Salman’s involvement in government crackdowns on dissidents in the aftermath of pro-democracy demonstrations in 2011.
However, there was an ‘intriguing’ article on the usually-informative InsideWorldFootball blog entitled Bahraini players refute torture allegations and Salman involvement which, despite the headline, quoted only two Bahraini players and only one, qualified, “refutation.” Sayed Adnan was “absolutely” sure there was “no torture of footballers” although, not insignificantly, he had “been in Australia” when he “did not hear one person say that (Salman) did all these things.” And he was extensively quoted in support of Salman’s Fifa presidency while Ali Saeed claimed he would not join “anything that would cause a problem because after 2011 we have achieved a balance.”
Article author Paul Nicholson debatably claimed this “throws considerable doubt over the media outrage that has been fuelled by US and UK bodies that describe themselves as human rights organisations.” But Nicholson’s article raised further “considerable doubts” of its own. He called the Salman stories “re-hashed from articles published two years ago,” inferring that repeating allegations somehow invalidates them. More significantly, IWF “learned from senior political and law enforcement sources that the human rights organisations leading the press push (who they suggest should more accurately be described as political pressure groups) are allegedly linked to very questionable activity in the US that appears to provide funds for their campaigning.” Mmmm. Anonymous, unquoted establishment “sources”, “allegedly linked”, “appears to provide.”, “political pressure groups” (what successful human rights groups aren’t?). Smear campaign, anyone?
The Fifa five have accepted invitations to address the European Parliament in January, a year since campaigning organisation NewFifaNow (NFN) was launched there. Candidate Jerome “Mr Blatter has football and Fifa at heart” Champagne attended the launch although his speech was not a precise tie-in with NFN’s campaign for more radical change. However, Sexwale and Fifa’s “independent reform” committee chair Francois Carrard also accepted invitations to address a two-day New York conference entitled “Securing Sport 2015” the annual get-together of the International Centre for Sports Security (ICSS), a Qatari-backed organisation concerned with sports governance and security.
Some Fifa reform campaigners are not over-enamoured with ICSS. German anti-corruption campaigning journalist Jens Weinreich referenced the event’s “bullshit propaganda” of which “real corruption and Fifa crime fighters” (a number of whom spoke at the event or fringe events) should steer clear. The conference also blew an opportunity to put Fifa ExCo member and US federation president Sunil Gulati under pressure for his long-term links with corrupt fellow American Chuck Blazer. Gulati avoided similar pressure by not attending a US senate hearing in July at which Andrew Jennings labelled him “frightened.”
ICSS president Mohammed Hanzab denied allegations that the organisation’s agenda was to deflect attention from Qatari World Cup-related governance and human rights issues. He said: “The Qatar government has nothing to do with it at all,” before unhelpfully adding that “It is true that it is 70% funded by the Qatar government.” Origins of the ICSS are covered in The Ugly Game, the much-lauded account of Qatar’s World Cup bid. One to watch, either way.
Repugnant former Fifa vice-president Jack Warner (veep, to give the office due respect) has wheedled himself into the scandal over German “activities” days before winning their bid to host the 2006 World Cup. As with much of this story, Trinidad’s connection was revealed in Jennings’ 2006 book Foul, as was the Maltese connection, which led to a police raid on Malta’s FA offices last Thursday. Last Tuesday, acting German FA (DFB) veep Rainer Koch claimed that German football legend Franz Beckenbauer signed a draft contract for Germany’s World Cup organising committee to provide “various services” to Warner. Koch added that these services were “not direct monetary payments,” which backs Beckenbauer’s claim that he “never gave money to anyone to acquire votes” for Germany’s bid.
For no “direct money” to be involved is unusual for Warner. And Foul also claimed Warner “tied his reputation to personally handing the competition to (Nelson) Mandela,” the then-president of rival bidder South Africa. Nevertheless, Koch appealed to Beckenbauer “to bring himself more closely into the explanation of what happened” and get “more intensively involved in clearing up the affair,” possibly diplomatic language for what he really thinks Beckenbauer should do. Koch is DFB acting veep because of the resignation of president Wolfgang Niersbach, who “stepped down with a heavy heart…to protect the DFB and the office.” Niersbach was a German bid committee veep but had “a clear conscience” and “absolutely nothing to be personally reproached for” as he didn’t know the “background of the cashflows.” He is also a Fifa ExCo member but not even Fifa’s dismal moral standards stopped Niersbach resigning from that… sorry… what?
Meanwhile, Spanish Fifa Veep Angel Maria Villar Llona, who was fined an international football administrator’s equivalent of tuppence ha’penny for failure “to behave in accordance with the general rules of conduct applicable to football officials” in relation to US attorney Michael Garcia’s investigation into the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding processes. Villar, a member of the failed but allegedly vote-swapping Spain/Portugal bid’s committee, initially failed to co-operate with Garcia, which Spain’s Football Federation (RFEF) this week downgraded to “a late reply to correspondence.” But the Ethics Committee took his subsequent “commitment to collaborate” and “willingness to co-operate” into consideration when fining him the current equivalent of £16,300. Villar seems keen to appeal even this paltry sum. The RFEF claims Villar told Garcia “My God, you’ve got balls.” Which begs the question what was Garcia being so brave about. And Villar claims “balls” was “understood in a different way by some members of the Ethics Committee,” whom you might assume have heard enough “balls” recently to understand it completely.
Still on the 2018 vote, the spectacularly unsuccessful Netherlands/Belgium bid (it got as many votes as England) is considering seeking compensation from Fifa after Blatter “revealed” that Russia were pre-ordained winners. The bid cost £6.5m and Belgian football federation chairman Francois de Keersmaecker said: “If fraud is proven it is obvious to me that we will seek compensation.” A Dutch FA spokesman, sort of, agreed: “An interview is not enough to take steps but we are preparing ourselves for the outcome of a continuing investigation.”
As if by contractual obligation, Fifa joined in the week’s major sporting scandal. ExCo member and Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko (Fifa keeping politics well out of football) was accused in the World Anti-Doping Agency report into “state-sponsored doping” of Russian athletes, of awareness of and complicity in the doping and cover-up attempts. In other ExCo news, there has been an extradition tug-of-love between Uruguay and the USA over Uruguayan former Fifa veep Eugenio Figueredo, with Figueredo this week agreeing to extradition home. The former Uruguayan FA chief and South American confederation veep was one of the famously-indicted in May.
The US obtained approval for his extradition from Switzerland in September. Figueredo appealed this to Switzerland’s Federal Criminal Court last month. He fancies his chances back home, even though the authorities there have nabbed nine of his properties as they pursue money-laundering charges against him. However, US authorities reportedly have first dibs on him. Case lawyers are delighted. And “Fifagate” made a predictable appearance among the headlines on Fifa ExCo member Luis Bedoya’s “irrevocable” unexpected resignation as Colombian Football Federation chief for “personal reasons.” These reasons were linked to New York, if Colombian government claims that he flew there almost immediately are true.
Bedoya was not among the May indictees and the Colombian federation’s accountant recently resigned too. However, Colombia’s attorney-general has “spoken with American authorities” who are reportedly keen to collaborate with his investigation into Bedoya. And observers have added two and two and come up with (potential involvement in bribes of) $110m, despite Bedoya’s consistent protestations of innocence.
Anyway…back to Blatter. His spokesman Klaus Stoehlker said he was “under medical evaluation at home” and his lawyer Richard Cullen confirmed he was…er…”in the hospital for a medical check-up.” So, maybe there are two Blatters, one genuinely unaware of all the corruption. An observer tweeted how “miraculous” it was that “Blatter didn’t suffer stress during all those years presiding over the most corrupt association in the world.” Speaking ill of the dead is taboo. Speaking ill of the ill appears less so. Within days, Blatter was his delusional self again, telling the reliable Stoehlker: “I’m the elected president of Fifa, the congress with its 209 member associations elected me for president, no Ethics Committee can change that.” Yes, Joseph. Stoehlker added that Blatter had received “many visitors” who remained anonymous “because it is highly political.” Michel Platini was not thought among them.
Seriously though, Blatter observers have worried about how he might cope after his Fifa days, fearing a form of the post-career depression suffered by many sportspeople. And if Blatter’s Fifa career were to end in the disgrace many feel it should, his health concerns could be genuine. For all that he is, it must be hoped that Blatter doesn’t become another victim.
Next week: The gods alone know…
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