It’s not what you know. It’s not even who you know. It’s what you know about who you know. Jerome Valcke was the embarrassing guy in the specs who got turned all nerdish by the sight of Hollywood actress Charlize Theron at the World Cup draw. The draw was a success simply by not being an unwatchable embarrassment, except for Valcke. The event did, however, go all Eurovision Song Contest on us, although I don’t remember Katie Boyle looking that good (one for the teenagers, there). At Eurovision, the male and female co-presenters would present a chemistry-free comedy double act in what would, usually have been their second and third languages. That much fun. And Valcke, if not Theron, was a dark reminder of those days.
Valcke’s day job is FIFA General Secretary, which makes him the second-most powerful man in world football (Sepp Blatter, the most powerful man in world football, was General Secretary when he was ‘elected’ FIFA president in 1998). It doesn’t make him a comedy foil for an Oscar-winning actress. Imagine David Beckham risking some witty repartee in a second language…or English, for that matter. That much fun. Valcke’s chat-up lines could have been scripted by John Motson, so fact-laden were they. “How old do you think I am?” shrieked Theron as he regaled her with tales of USA’s 1950 World Cup victory over England (forgetting, like many of us, that Theron is South African and got her accent from Hollywood, not the real USA). “You really are a facts machine,” she cried, making the insult sound like a compliment in the way that only the best actors and actresses can. But there were some facts that the machine wasn’t about to produce.
For instance, Valcke’s previous job within the FIFA organisation had been Head of Marketing, to which he was appointed in 2004. He was fired from that job in December 2006 after a New York court ruled that he had “lied repeatedly” to World Cup sponsors MasterCard during negotiations over sponsorship for the 2010 and 2014 tournaments. Part of MasterCard’s agreement allowed them first refusal on any new deal. Yet Valcke and his marketing team, three of whom were also fired by FIFA in December 2006, conducted negotiations with VISA and were found to be actively promoting VISA throughout the negotiations. The very fact of these negotiations, let alone the pro-VISA bias, was a breach of MasterCard’s agreement. MasterCard were not informed of them by Valcke, even when John Stuart, negotiating on MasterCard’s behalf, confronted Valcke directly on the subject in the autumn of 2005. Valcke denied their existence. Indeed, the court ruling stated that “FIFA’s marketing director (Valcke) lied to both MasterCard, FIFA’s long-time partner, and to VISA.”
A FIFA statement on the sackings said: “The FIFA employees who had conducted negotiations with Visa and MasterCard were accused of repeated dishonesty during negotiations and of giving false information to the FIFA deciding bodies in question. “FIFA’s negotiations breached its business principles and FIFA did not negotiate in the spirit of fair play. FIFA, which actively promotes fair play, cannot possibly accept such conduct amongst its own employees”, it concluded. A ruling by the US court of appeal in March 2007 “vacated” the original verdict and remanded the case. However, in June 2007, FIFA agreed to pay MasterCard $90m to settle the dispute, and although MasterCard had actually bid $10m more than VISA for the 2010 and 2014 sponsorship, they stated that they did not wish to work with FIFA again, forcing FIFA to accept the lower bid. Thus did Valcke’s actions cost FIFA $100m. That’s ONE HUNDRED MILLION DOLLARS. In pounds sterling that’s A LOT OF MONEY.
In 2001, Valcke had had dealings with FIFA in his leading role with Paris firm Vivendi, who were offering to take over lucrative World Cup TV and marketing contracts from bankrupt Swiss firm International Sport and Leisure. After Vivendi undertook due diligence on the deal they decided, sharpish, that it wasn’t for them, but not before they had tried some ‘interesting’ negotiating tactics. These involved threatening FIFA with “serious consequences” if Vivendi did not get their way, most notably because Vivendi could use “a media company which had at its disposal all the resources necessary for presenting events to the world at large”. It has never been discovered what “events” Vivendi, and Jerome Valcke, had discovered. In June 2007 – the same month in which FIFA agreed to pay MasterCard $90m as a result of botched negotiations conducted by Jerome Valcke – Jerome Valcke became FIFA General Secretary, which made him the second most powerful man in world football.
It’s not what you know. It’s not even who you know. It’s what you know about who you know.