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The cloud of corruption
by Paul Kennedy, October 20th, 2010 8:49PM
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TAGS:  fifa, world cup 2022

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[MY VIEW] Wednesday's decision by FIFA's ethics committee to provisionally suspend six men -- including executive committee members Amos Adamu and Reynald Temarii-- for their roles in the Sunday Times' sting operation examining the World Cup 2018/22 bid process was a measure of damage control. But the decision and subsequent media conference at which FIFA president Sepp Blatter and general secretary Jerome Valcke spoke left many questions unanswered. Among them, where have Blatter and Valcke been?

The severity of the crisis was evidenced by the speed at which FIFA reacted. But the provisional suspensions were more indictments than findings of guilt.

Claudio Sulser, the chairman of the Ethics Committee, said FIFA has zero tolerance for breaches of its code of ethics, but what form will his committee's inquiry take? How will the evidence be presented? How will the six accused present their defenses? How long will the process take? What kind of punishment will be handed out? And if Adamu and Temarii are suspended or expelled from the executive committee, will replacements be named before the Dec. 2 vote on the 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosts? And how will those processes take conducted?

Sulser correctly pointed out that his committee was not a tribunal and not set up to investigate what he dismissed as "rumors," and sounded like a man wondering just what he had gotten into when he agreed to take the committee chairmanship after former long-distance runner Sebastian Coe's resignation -- to work on the floundering England World Cup bid.

Questions also concern the Sulser committee's inquiry into horse-trading charges against two bidders in the 2018 and 2022 campaigns (reported by the Daily Mail to be Portugal/Spain and Qatar). How will the investigation be conducted? When will it be concluded? What are the avenues for appeal before the Dec. 2 vote? One doesn't imagine Qatar, prepared to spend more than $43 billion on the 2022 World Cup, going quietly if it's told its bid is being thrown out because of ethics violations.

First Valcke and then Blatter expressed sadness at the scandal, coming, as both said, only three months after FIFA successfully pulled off organizing the first World Cup in Africa.

But Valcke and Blatter didn't take kindly to the suggestion that FIFA was a corrupt organization. "I was surprised that you asked if FIFA was corrupt," Blatter said to reporters as he spoke following the press conference presided over by Valcke and Sulser. Surprised?

But a cloud of corruption has hung over FIFA for decades. Probably the most notable case involves the collapse of ISL, FIFA's longtime marketing agency, and a Swiss tribunal's investigation into how 138 million Swiss francs ($143 million on today's exchange) were allegedly paid out to individuals and organizations in the international sports world.

Part of the problem is what is the definition of corrupt. The business practices accepted in the United States are different than those accepted in Europe and they are different than those in other parts of the world. What is one man's gift is another's bribe.

In the ISL case, bribery was not a crime in Switzerland when the payments were made.

Valcke should know only too well such subtleties, having been fired from his first job at FIFA for breaching its "business principles" in negotiations with Visa and MasterCard over FIFA marketing rights. The Visa-MasterCard case did not involve corruption, but he did engage in what he famously called a "commercial lie" and was, by his own admission, "completely destroyed" by MasterCard's lawyer in the subsequent case in Federal district court in New York. Six months after Valcke and three other FIFA executives were fired, the case FIFA lost was remanded on appeal and he was re-hired -- and promoted no less from marketing director to general secretary.

If Blatter was surprised to hear the suggestion that FIFA is corrupt, he obviously didn't read the Sunday Times' report. While the meetings with Adamu and Temarii got all the attention, perhaps the damning part of the report was the dinner conversation reporters had with Botswanan Ismail Bhamjee, whom Adamu replaced on the executive committee after Bhamjee was caught scalping tickets at the 2006 World Cup.

Bhamjee was on the committee in 2004 when it decided by a vote of 14-10 to give the 2010 World Cup to South Africa over Morocco, and he named three committee members who claimed to have been paid cash -- he believed the sum was $250,000 -- to vote for Morocco. And he then named another colleague -- whose name was withheld -- who said he was paid $1 million to support Morocco but switched to South Africa when he was offered more money.

Bhamjee, one of four so-called fixers provisionally suspended by FIFA's ethics commission on Wednesday, first said he could help as a liaison between the Sunday Times' "lobbyists," and executive committee members, then backtracked and said no one wanted any money for their vote and, according to the Sunday Times, submitted an invoice of 100,000 pounds ($158,000) for his work.

Is Bhamjee telling the truth? Or was he simply trying to build his case for being needed to help fix the 2018/22 votes? No one knows. But it is certainly worth further investigation if FIFA wants to remove the cloud of corruption hanging over it.



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