Sunday, September 4, 2011

Dueling Corruption Claims Hit Soccer Governing Body

Sunday, September 4, 2011

LONDON—Soccer's global governing body said it opened an investigation into claims that its president, Joseph "Sepp" Blatter, knew of alleged payments made to influence an upcoming election to head up the organization that runs one of the world's most popular sports.

Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

FIFA President Blatter at a March press conference.

The Fédération Internationale de Football Association's move to investigate its own president—at the instigation of a rival candidate for the body's top position, who is also under investigation—is the latest development to rock a global soccer world already plagued by corruption accusations. In December, FIFA awarded the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments to Russia and Qatar, respectively, amid allegations—by former soccer executives and the media—of bribery and vote-trading in the run-up to the decision.

Now, the organization is embroiled in a firefight ahead of an election for the FIFA presidency that finds the two main candidates—Mr. Blatter and Mohamed bin Hammam, a Qatari who heads the Asian Football Confederation—facing internal ethics investigations based on allegations they have made against each other.

The current battle began this week, when U.S. FIFA executive committee member Chuck Blazer submitted a report to the organization regarding a meeting this month between Mr. bin Hammam, senior FIFA executive Jack A. Warner and members of the Caribbean Football Union, according to FIFA. That meeting was convened by Mr. bin Hammam to elicit support for his bid for the presidency, according to reports.

According to FIFA, Mr. Blazer alleged that cash payments were made at the meeting to members of the Caribbean group. Mr. Blatter called for FIFA's ethics committee to investigate.

FIFA also says that Mr. Blazer's report indicates that Mr. Blatter knew of the alleged payments at the meeting and ignored them, contrary to FIFA rules requiring him to report the matter. Mr. Hammam requested that FIFA's ethics committee investigate Mr. Blatter for failing to report the matter.

Neither Mr. Blatter nor Mr. bin Hammam could be reached to comment. In a statement posted on his personal website, Mr. bin Hamman said, "I am not at all afraid to answer any questions that the Ethics Committee may have for me at the hearing next Sunday. As long as the Committee guarantees a fair process, I have nothing to fear."

Hugh Robertson, the U.K.'s Minister for Sport, said the presidential contest had descended into farce. "With both of the candidates having allegations of corruption aimed at them the election should be suspended," he said.

The situation also leaves questions about whether FIFA can properly investigate its own problems. David Davies, the former head of England's Football Association, called for an independent inquiry into the allegations against Mr. Blatter, in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp.

The new investigation will place under a microscope one of soccer's most powerful and divisive figures. Mr. Blatter has been a controversial president since first winning the role in 1998. During the 75-year-old Swiss leader's three terms at the helm, FIFA has faced a stream of corruption allegations from the soccer officials and the media, and made headlines for controversial comments about women and gays. Around the time he was first elected president, a senior FIFA executive claimed to have been offered money to vote for Mr. Blatter, who denied the allegations.

Some analysts say the latest round of allegations could inspire a complete overhaul of FIFA, heeding decadelong calls to make the Zurich-based body more transparent. "FIFA's reputation is at an all-time low anyway; this is the final nail in the coffin," said Phil Ball, an author of several books about soccer.

FIFA declined to comment beyond its statement, and has long denied accusations of widespread corruption.

FIFA bidding rules bar prospective host nations from promising favors or gifts to FIFA executives or their representatives. "This scandal has blackened FIFA's reputation with many people," said Stefan Szymanski, an expert on the business of football at London's Cass Business School. "Although it had already a very poor reputation for corporate governance."

FIFA roiled the global sports world in December when it awarded the right to host the 2022 World Cup tournament to Qatar, the tiny, deep-pocketed Middle Eastern emirate that was seen as a long shot, in part because of brutal summer temperatures that can reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

Qatar, however, promised to spend $4 billion to build nine stadiums and renovate three others; key to the bid was a plan to equip all of the facilities with high-tech outdoor air-conditioning systems. And it said that an additional $50 billion would be spent on infrastructure.

The decision to award the tournament to Qatar generated immediate debate. Internal documents from the emirate's bidding committee reviewed by The Wall Street Journal showed it had gone on a spending spree that made investments in the home countries of several executives who were responsible for choosing the host nation.

The documents didn't show that Qatar violated the bidding rules, but rather that it worked within FIFA's broad guidelines, which leave the door open for well-funded bidders to open their wallets and exert influence on key decision makers.

The controversy hasn't died down in the months since, however. David Triesman, the former head of England's World Cup bid, recently accused four members of FIFA of "improper and unethical" conduct in the bidding process to select the venues for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments. Lord David alleged that the FIFA executive committee members had asked for favors in return for their support. England bid unsuccessfully for the 2018 tournament that was awarded to Russia. FIFA replied by requesting that the Sunday Times of London newspaper—which made some of the allegations—and England's Football Association submit letters providing evidence.

In a separate incident, the Sunday Times has also submitted evidence to a British parliamentary committee claiming that two FIFA executive committee members were paid $1.5 million by Qatar to vote for the country's 2022 World Cup bid.

Write to Alistair MacDonald at and Javier Espinoza at

Corrections & Amplifications
The Fédération Internationale de Football Association, global soccer's governing body, has opened an investigation into claims about payments allegedly made to influence an upcoming election to lead the group. A previous version of this story said the investigation involved earlier allegations of payments to influence the awarding of the 2022 World Cup bid to Qatar.

Powered By | Full Text RSS Feed | Amazon Plugin | Settlement Statement | WordPress Tutorials

View the original article here


Post a Comment