Will Ooi explains how although FIFA’s own internal ethics investigation won’t shine a light on the corruption of FIFA, perhaps a FIFA-executive-turned-FBI-informant will.
Eighteen months on and roughly $9.5 million dollars later from its announcement, the results are in from FIFA’s self-commissioned ethics committee investigation into the bidding processes for the hosting rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, to be held in Russia and Qatar respectively. Its conclusions are as predictable as they are head-shakingly ridiculous.
No stranger to controversy, the inquiry was set up by FIFA as a response to mounting accusations of corruption following the disputed award of future football/soccer World Cup hosting rights to Qatar, an oil-rich entity in the middle of sweltering desert heat with no current infrastructure (or history) for such an event.
Former US attorney Michael Garcia was appointed lead investigator, charged with uncovering the truth behind media claims of a culture of nepotism, bribery and vote rigging amongst an executive committee contingent made up of near-caricature villainy. Indeed, the dossiers and deeds of FIFA’s most controversial figures – among them Jack Warner, Mohammad bin Hamman, and Chuck Blazer – reveal elaborate and over-the-top wickedness that would not look out of place in upcoming Marvel films.
All the work, though, seems to have gone to waste. Preferring to announce its own vetted outcomes rather than publishing the full report findings, a decision sparking infighting even amongst current executive committee members, Garcia himself has moved swiftly to distance himself from the 42-page summary of his 430-page dossier, citing it as containing “numerous materially incomplete and erroneous representations of the facts.” Key among these were self-congratulatory celebrations of the organisation’s “robustness” during the process, despite even the unwillingness of Sepp Blatter, FIFA’s president, to cooperate in his own organisation’s quest for full disclosure, and the refusal of Spain and Portugal to provide information.
Not only does the summary parrot the party line that Russia and Qatar are innocent of any wrongdoing, the finger of blame has instead been pointed towards Australia’s and England’s failed bids, in spite of the fact that all emails related to Russia’s bid were systematically deleted and the hundreds of migrant workers’ deaths building completely new stadia for Qatar supposedly being outside of FIFA’s remit. The organisation is also, apparently, free of responsibility over the fate of Phaedra Almajid, a former international media officer for the Qatar 2022 bid process-turned-whistleblower, whose evidence may never see the light of day and who has since received death threats aimed at her and her family.
Yet there remains hope that FIFA may be brought to account. While Garcia’s defection proves that football’s governing body cannot be relied upon for self-administration, justice against Blatter and co may well come down to the sensational revelation that Chuck Blazer, the 69-year old former general secretary of FIFA’s North American, Central American and Carribean (CONCACAF) region, has been working in the last several years as an FBI informant.
Blazer’s lifestyle sums up the lavish excess of your typical FIFA executive board member, and sheds light on how this improbable scenario came to be; $29 million in credit card charges, over ten years of tax evasion, and best of all, two Trump Tower apartments – one for him, and another for his cats. And the comic book antics just keep on giving: with the aid of a hidden microphone in his keychain (wearing a wire or concealing a beeping camera underneath a sombrero may have been too ostentatious), for years Blazer has recorded conversations during private meetings with multiple FIFA executive board members, adding another level of intrigue and insight to the organisation’s dealings and promising to expose its previously impenetrable inner workings.
Even if Garcia’s full report may never be made available to the public for transparency’s sake, the prospect of one of their own turning state’s evidence hints at long-awaited and much-needed exogenous change – and from a most unlikely endogenous source, to boot – to challenge FIFA’s up until now untouchable status.
There is undoubtedly much work to be done to clean up the systematic and endemic reach of corruption and cronyism in the game – where one wonders whether even Blazer’s testimony is enough to bring down such a behemoth – yet recent events represent at the very least the scoring of a solitary goal in response to a match that has always been ruthlessly one-sided.
With plenty of time still to play, the coming months could prove to be truly revolutionary for the sport – regardless of what Blatter or highly-edited snippets may have us believe.
Photo Credit: Associated Press/FILE