History has been very kind indeed to Foul, investigative journalist Andrew Jennings’ first literary foray into what the book’s sub-title calls The Secret World of FIFA: Bribes, vote-rigging and ticket scandals. Jennings is still on his worldwide “I told you so” tour, nine years after he first told us “so” in Foul’s pages. Time, then, for revisit to a book as fascinating and shocking as FIFA’s sorry tale of malfeasance and corruption. Foul’s stars are now football household names. Presidents Joao Havelange and Sepp Blatter, the repugnant Jack Warner and his ticket-touting family, Blatter fixer-in-chief Mohamed Bin Hammam, recently suspended FIFA secretary-general Jerome Valcke in his old job as head of FIFA marketing and ex-FIFA vice-president (“and actual bad Santa” – John Oliver) Chuck Blazer. There’s a “special guest star” slot for International Sports and Leisure…ISL, three words that shook the FIFA world.
There are namechecks for recently re-appeared “characters” Issa Hayatou, Chung Mong-Joon, Jerome Champagne, Worawi Makudi and Ricardo Teixeira. And there are references to historic, and recently revisited, political and financial scandals. Foul frequently reminds you that current corruption revelations are not always news. Jennings’ writing style is as idiosyncratic as his interviewing technique, sticking a microphone almost literally up the nose of his target and asking an ultra-pertinent question, knowing he will get photogenically ignored or, in the repugnant Warner’s case, a photogenic volley of nonsensical abuse.
His style is to my taste but even if it isn’t to yours, the power of the material, and Jennings’ impressive gathering and organisation of it, should assuage all such concerns. Jennings was asked to “take a look at the people running international football” after his 1992 expose of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) The Lords of the Rings: Power, Money and Drugs in the Modern Olympics and his 1996 follow-up The New Lords of the Rings: Olympic Corruption and How to Buy Gold Medals, (he likes his tell-all sub-titles). Jennings writes that his immediate response was “Come off it, football is big, it would take years to find out what’s going on inside FIFA”, adding: “it’s taken years.” And he’d only just begun. We should be hugely grateful that he took the time.
The book tells the tale of a $1m cheque mistakenly sent to FIFA’s Zurich HQ on the now wildly inappropriately named Sunny Hill in 1998. This we now know was a bribe sent by ISL to Havelange, although this was not known at the time. Early chapters cover Havelange’s 1974 emergence on world football’s stage, a tale familiar to readers of David Yallop’s 1998 book How They Stole the Game. But they are a seamless introduction to the Blatter years, with Jennings including information unearthed after 1998. They are a reminder, too, of how long Blatter has lusted for power, as Jennings details his scheming to replace Havelange as president in 1994.
Blatter is at the centre of everything, of course, while keeping himself out of trouble as others fell or were pushed into it. He even turned himself from prime schemer against Havelange to the Brazilian’s heavily-favoured successor in three years. Foul shows how. The “vote-rigging” of Foul’s sub-title includes the 1998 Presidential Election itself, not particularly the widely-rumoured vote-buying allegations which Yallop so forcefully addressed. But how Trinidad’s Neville Ferguson cast Haiti’s vote in the election. For Blatter, naturally. Ferguson was Caribbean Football Union deputy general secretary; appointed, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, by the repugnant Warner. The election looked close. Blatter needed every vote. Haiti’s Fifa Congress delegate, Dr Jean-Marie Kyss, was absent. Warner “arranged” for Ferguson to replace him. (In 1996, the girlfriend of Jamaican football chief Horace Burrell took the absent Kyss’s place. On neither occasion did any other Caribbean delegate raise an eyebrow, let alone an objection. “Perhaps FIFA should get a group booking for an eye test,” Jennings suggests, helpfully).
Blatter ensured his own financial security while keeping his personal finances secure from exposure. He ensured financial security for those whose co-operation he required. He protected these “friends” and friends of these “friends” whenever their nefarious activities were exposed. And when authorities got close enough to metaphorically dust for prints, they never found Blatter’s. Jennings finds Blatter’s fingerprints everywhere. He details the newly-elected president’s efforts to establish a “parallel administration” at Sunny Hill, called the “F-Crew (a translation from the German for “Leadership Crew” rather than an unlikely homage to 1970s Millwall hooligans the “F-Troop”). This administered what Jennings calls Blatter’s “Golden Goose.” This laid “eggs” ranging from “timepieces from Cartier and Longines” to “a clutch of tickets for an England v Poland game.” It also “clucked around Sepp’s family and friends” and “laid air tickets” for “flights specially scheduled to avoid unfortunate meetings” between Blatter’s “rival girlfriends.”
The “Geese” (Executive Committee members had a “Silver Goose”) emerged from two years’ of private account details which were leaked to him, as many ‘sensitive’ documents have always done. Little wonder Fifa was financially imperilled (and that the currently-suspended Michel Platini had to wait nine years for full payment of his portion of goose…erm…). His own salary can only be guessed at, as his mantra-like commitment to “transparency” didn’t (and still doesn’t) stretch that far (then, as now, the more FIFA people spoke of transparency the less they displayed it). And Jennings’ exceptionally well-informed guesses include a Swiss Alp of allowances, expenses, perks and “tax efficiencies.”
Jennings is particularly strong on the political and financial shenanigans immediately before 2002’s presidential election, a story which demonstrates the worst of Blatter, as politician and human being. Blatter’s manipulation of FIFA congresses is covered with jaw-dropping clarity. He blatantly abused the chair, as they say, calling only obsequious delegates to speak and reminding all delegates of the grants coming their FAs’ way, in case any of them thought FIFA’s finances worth debating. “The puppet show was great,” notes Jennings. Blatter emerged from these theatrics with a second presidential term…and the corruption really began. Blatter tours the world, supporting his supporters, regardless of the rights and wrongs of their “situations.” You cannot but share the frustration and anger of honest Antigua & Barbudan officials in their war with Blatter loyalists.
The bribes of the sub-title were mostly those paid by ISL and, in order to protect the identities of bribe-trouserers, repaid by FIFA itself. Foul details Jennings’ struggles to obtain these identities, a struggle he has now, of course, won…and made Panorama documentaries for the BBC in celebration. His determination to expose the wrongdoings and wrongdoers is clear from the detail he provides of his investigations and meetings with ISL officials and liquidators. The film All the President’s Men springs to mind as Jennings and his Panorama colleagues have doors shut in their face until someone finally talks to them. There’s a thriller writer in Jennings if he ever fancies the idea.
The ticket scandals of the sub-title were the repugnant Warner’s domain. Jennings almost appeared to relish his personal confrontations with the “industrial-scale” ticket-touter, as seen in his Panorama documentary confrontations, two of which make Foul. Jennings certainly relishes quoting Warner and his emails, exposing his pretentious, pious prose. And he devotes an entire chapter (Hooray for Youth Sport) to the Warner family’s “involvement” with the 2001 World Under-17 championships in Trinidad. In a curious way, the book demonstrates Blatter’s transparency in that most of his and his acolytes’ schemes/scams were transparently corrupt, the 2006 World Cup host nation vote a case in point. Blatter wanted Germany and South Africa to believe he supported them. However, the vote was destined for a tie, which would require Blatter to publicly use his casting vote, Oceanian delegate Charlie Dempsey, flew home, neglecting to cast his vote for South Africa as mandated by his federation. In 2002 Dempsey became a FIFA honorary life member. No funny business there, then.
Some of the major beauties of Foul are the often fleeting references to what is only now unravelling. Such as Platini’s presidential advisory role from 1998, the Paris office he established and his staff’s £8,000 monthly salaries (“more than most salaries up on Sunny Hill”). All part of a “gentleman’s agreement”? Perhaps, given that Fifa’s Executive Committee had “blocked” Blatter’s formal “re-organisation plans.” Other on-going personalities are name-checked fascinatingly. In the helpful “cast list” at the end of the book Bin Hammam is “expected to run for the presidency or be kingmaker when Blatter steps down.” And in the text, he might “threaten the president” because he “helped put Blatter up there and in time might take him down.”
In August, Blatter was disturbed by South Korea’s then presidential candidate Chung Mong-Joon labelling FIFA corrupt, “when one recalls, as Dr Chung cannot have forgotten, that he was a FIFA vice-president and a FIFA emergency committee member for 17 years.” But Blatter had “forgotten” Chung’s “welcome” speech to 2002 Congress in which he highlighted FIFA’s “serious organisational crisis.” As Jennings noted, “Blatter’s eyes went tight” and “were raging” when he thanked Chung “for that very unique welcome address.” And Chung and Blatter are opponents throughout Foul. Jennings reports that Warner had “since the early 1980s” been sold the “television rights to screening the World Cup in the Caribbean” for “a nominal $1 a time…while others paid millions.” Warner then “sold these rights to regional television stations.” Havelange “secretly arranged” this. Blatter couldn’t keep that secret this year.
Jennings’ references to World Cup bids have many contemporary poignancies. In 2000, the idea emerged to put Germany’s European club champions Bayern Munich on tour to Thailand, Tunisia, Trinidad (natch) and, with available countries beginning with “T” running out, Malta. Then pay the participating national associations “$100,000 for the television rights” thereby making “four voters happy” in the run-up to the decision on the 2006 World Cup hosts. “Nine days before the vote,” Germany’s “national security board” reversed their weapons exporting policy and “voted to deliver 1,200 anti-tank missiles to Saudi Arabia.” As Jennings notes: “Good news for Saudi’s Abdullah Al-Dabal, a committee member with a World Cup vote to cast.” A vote which mattered (see above).
Nowadays, we “hear stories about who had pocketed the biggest bribes, who’d taken the money, pledged their support and then voted the other way, who’d crossed the street for a bigger bucket of swill.” But the words are Jennings’ from 2006, about the 2004 vote to give South Africa the 2010 World Cup. Jennings also recounts “the executive committee member who’d asked for $10m.” Check a 2015 US Department of Justice indictment for details. The on-going nature of FIFA skulduggery meant each re-issue of Foul required a whole new chapter on a whole new scandal. An early re-issue updated readers on how the repugnant Warner escaped meaningful sanction for his ticket-touting. “Oh, b*****ks,” said Australian reporter Jesse Fink, reacting to “this latest lettuce-leaf flogging of one of (Fifa’s) most ethically bankrupt executives.”
My 2007 paperback issue, meanwhile, devotes an admirably directly-entitle chapter, Lies, Adultery and Fabrication to the then-unfolding “MasterCard debacle,” during which Fifa negotiated credit card sponsorship in breach of both its standing agreements and, it admitted, its “business principles.” The book closes in December 2006, as the then head of marketing Jerome Valcke loses his job because “Fifa cannot possibly accept such conduct among its own employees.” Valcke was appointed by Blatter to Fifa’s second most important role, its Secretary-General, six months later.
By the time you reach the end of the book, you may agree with the comments on the back cover from FourFourTwo magazine: “The battery of accusations is so relentless you almost feel punch-drunk by the end.” But most accusations look likely to prove genuine, which should keep any right-minded reader’s spirits high, especially while Jennings details FIFA’s insistent but risible efforts to ban his Daily Mail newspaper articles and Foul itself. Contemporary reviewers were kind to Foul, even if the English game failed to give it due attention as England lurched between failed World Cup bids. History has been kinder still. And Jennings’ “I told you so” tour continues.
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