In its 107 years of existence, FIFA has survived many a crises, both political and financial. In the 1930s, British associations quit in a row over amateurism. They re-joined in the late 1940s. FIFA nearly went bankrupt after the Second World War. The African nations boycotted FIFA events in the 1960s because of the presence of South Africa and their despicable apartheid policy. In 2002, FIFA was on the verge of financial ruin as their marketing agent ISL collapsed. During all such crises, FIFA weathered the storm, found solutions and still retained their insular identity.
The immense global popularity of football has made FIFA the richest sports body in the World. Their finances have increased rapidly since the advent of colour and satellite television as this has sent TV rights soaring.
Prosperity has also led to many allegations of corruption against FIFA. The allegations in 2011 against executive committee members Mohammed Bin Hammam, President of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and Jack Warner president of the Caribbean, Central and North American Confederation (CONCACAF) of bribing members to secure votes is actually the latest development in a long running saga. Both Bin Hammam and Warner were accused of offering cash payments of $40,000 apiece to an estimated two dozen football officials from the Caribbean nations to sway their loyalties and persuade them to vote for Bin Hammam rather than Sepp Blatter in the presidential elections in June earlier this year. Ironically, Chuck Blazer (General Secretary of the CONCACAF region) and for many years a close ally and friend of Warner, sensationally turned whistle blower.
Bin Hammam’s reputation may be in tatters but he was Blatter’s most significant supporter in collection of funds in both 1998 and 2002. His FIFA presidential ambitions were always known. Both Blatter and Bin Hammam visited India in April 2007, as part of a FIFA delegation to re-invigorate football in the country. They were then the best of friends. Bin Hammam’s support was on the condition that the current FIFA President would stand aside for him in 2011. Blatter’s decision to opt for a fourth term as FIFA president led to an acrimonious parting of ways.
Many have felt that Blatter has used Bin Hammam for his own political gains. The Qatari’s wealth and power was used by Blatter in his presidential contest with Lennart Johansson of UEFA in 1998 and against Issa Hayatou President of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) in the 2007 elections.
Charged with offering bribes for votes Bin Hammam appeared before FIFA’s ethics committee on 29th May. Bin Hammam was banned after the ethics committee ruled he was responsible for cash gifts totaling around 1million US dollars (£620,000) to officials from associations belonging to the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) at a meeting in Trinidad on May 10. The Qatari withdrew from the presidential race the day before the ethics committee meeting, leaving Blatter to run unopposed. However he decided to appeal against the committee’s decision to provisionally ban him from football related activity stating that the proceedings were not in compliance with any natural forms of justice.
Further evidence of alleged corruption surfaced. On May 30, 2011, Fred Lunn, vice-president of the Bahamas Football Association, said that he was given $40,000 in cash, as an inducement to vote for FIFA presidential candidate, Mohamed bin Hammam. In addition, on June 11, 2011 Louis Giskus, president of the Surinamese Football Association, alleged that he was given $40,000 in cash for “development projects” as an incentive to vote for Bin Hammam. So another panel was set up to investigate these accusations.
On 23 July 2011, Bin Hammam was banned for life from all football activities by a five-member panel of the FIFA Ethics committee chaired by Petrus Damaseb the Namibian High Court judge. The committee found that his actions violated the organization’ ethics rules after studying the reports of investigators and hearing the testimony of witnesses from the May 2011 meeting who were also cross examined by Bin Hammam’s legal representatives.
The countdown to the 2011 FIFA crises started over a year ago. In October 2010 Britain’s Sunday Times newspaper claimed two members of FIFA’s executive committee, Reynald Temarii of Tahti and Amos Adamu of Nigeria offered to sell their votes in the 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosting contest. After being examined both were suspended by FIFA’s ethics committee, Temarii for one year and Adamu for three years.
In May 2011 the Sunday Times claimed that FIFA executive committee members Issa Hayatou and Jacques Anouma were paid $1.5 million to vote for Qatar. Hayatou, who is from Cameroon, leads the Confederation of African Football and is a FIFA vice president. Anouma is president of Ivorian Football Federation.
Allegations against FIFA officials have also been made to the U.K. Parliament by David Triesman, the former head of England’s bid and the English Football Association. Triesman told the lawmakers that four long-standing FIFA executive committee members—Jack Warner, Nicolas Leoz, Ricardo Teixeira and Worawi Makudi—engaged in “improper and unethical” conduct in the 2018 bidding, which was won by Russia. This quartet of FIFA voters had denied wrongdoing.
Knowledge about corruption in FIFA has existed for well over a decade. But till now nobody was willing or able to do anything about it, except for some reports by investigative journalists. Delegates always believed they were untouchable as FIFA functions like a closed oligarchy. So though bin Hammam is giving a racist tone to the allegations against him, it is not being considered very seriously as the corruption saga has existed in FIFA for long.
In 1998, Sepp Blatter was elected President of FIFA amidst accusations that the previous incumbent Joao Havelange had bought support for him. In a BBC programme Panorama, broadcast on 16 May 2011, it was alleged that in 1997 Havelange took a $1 million bung, which Blatter knew about. It is therefore alleged that Blatter came to power, by defeating the elderly Swede, Lennart Johannson, the UEFA president, through corrupt patronage.
Again, in May 2002, on the eve of another FIFA presidential election, a formal legal complaint was lodged against Blatter by 11 FIFA members. The accusers included five FIFA Vice-Presidents and six executive committee members. Their accusations were plenty but the main allegations were that Blatter paid $100,000 to Viacheslav Koloskov, former President of the Russian Football Federation to buy his influence. Again nothing was proved at the Seoul Congress and without a credible opponent Blatter sailed through the elections. Once re-appointed he gradually forced out anyone inside FIFA who had openly or implicitly opposed him.
Years later Koloskov was a member of Russia’s ultimately successful World Cup 2018 bid team. However there are allegations of corruption against him. It is alleged that he flew to Bruges and gave the Belgian member of the FIFA executive Michel D’Hooghe a special painting as a gift. Michel Platini, president of UEFA was allegedly offered a Picasso painting, which would have been worth a great deal of money, by a Russian bidder. Platini refused the offer.
The 68-year-old Jack Warner, one of the accused in the bribery case is the longest serving FIFA-member. He has been surrounded by controversy for many years but no action has been taken against him. There have been previous allegations of illicit World Cup ticket sales, suspicions over television rights, travel deals and a major imbroglio with Trinidad players over their World Cup bonuses. Trinidad had qualified for the 2006 World Cup in Germany. However all these accusations were ignored by FIFA due to their vote bank politics. Warner with the Caribbean representing 30 votes in a 40-strong Confederation wielded a lot of power and patronage. As he controlled a significant number of votes successive World Cup bidders and FIFA presidents have overlooked his mis-demeanours and kept him on their side.
So FIFA has been morally bankrupt for years. No wonder legendary Diego Maradona has been scathing about the functioning of FIFA and the conduct of its office-bearers. He said “FIFA is a big museum. They are dinosaurs who do not want to relinquish power. It’s always going to be the same” But it is not the same this time. Blatter has promised radical reforms to assuage public and political opinion which is ganging up against FIFA. Executive Committee members were turning against each other, which is harming FIFA’s credibility and image. Also, FIFA’s world wide sponsors had started officially voicing their protests.
Several of FIFA’s partners and sponsors have raised concerns about the allegations of corruption, including Coca-Cola, Adidas, Emirates and Visa. Coca-Cola raised concerns by saying “the current allegations being raised are distressing and bad for the sport”; with Adidas saying “the negative tenor of the public debate around FIFA at the moment is neither good for football nor for FIFA and its partners”. Moreover Emirates raised its concerns by saying “we hope that these issues will be resolved as soon as possible”; and Visa adding “the current situation is clearly not good for the game and we ask that FIFA take all necessary steps to resolve the concerns that have been raised.”
Blatter swept to an unopposed 186-vote victory (17 abstentions) at the FIFA Congress this summer but then indulged in damage limitation. The solutions offered are letting the FIFA Congress and not the executive committee, decide in future on World Cup hosting. The sheer numbers of the Congress would reduce the chances the chances of bribery and corruption. He also proposed the setting up of a solutions committee from within the football family to recommend whatever changes in governance were needed.