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Published On: Fri, Nov 28th, 2014

Ugly side of the beautiful game (II)

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By  Kolawole Olaniyan

The football authority was accused of violating bidding rules by among others: paying Jack Warner, a former FIFA executive, $55,000 for a gala dinner in Trinidad and providing substantial assistance for a training camp for an under-20 Trinidad and Tobago team in 2009.

From a close reading of the summary of the report, there is no question that the ‘successful bidding’ by Qatar was influenced by bribery, regardless of what the committee chose to call it. As for Russia, questions remain as to the transparency of the whole process and why the committee chose to let Russia get off the hook so lightly.

The improper payments and wrongdoings the report documented amount to improper influence and bribery, raising questions as to the validity of the entire bidding process and Fifa’s operations. To be clear, bribery is the receiving or offering any undue reward by or to any person whatsoever, in a public or private role, in order to influence his/her behaviour in that role, and incline him/her to act contrary to the known rules of honesty, impartiality, and integrity.

The evil to which the notion of bribery is directed is that of people (such as Fifa’s officials) being bought to act other than honestly and impartially in the performance of functions within the ambit of their office (such as World Cup bidding decisions).

As it stands, no individual, organization, members or officials of Fifa will be punished for the bribery cases identified by the ethics committee.

FIFA’s lack of transparency and internal accountability, when combined with a growing perception of impunity of its leaders, are leading to an erosion of its integrity and credibility. This seriously threatens the continuing success of the “beautiful game.”

It is noteworthy that Fifa has already promised to base future decisions on a vote by all 209 members at its Congress rather than its executive committee. But this is certainly not enough to fully respond to the growing accusations of corruption against the organization.

If FIFA is to reclaim its integrity and credibility and instil public trust and confidence in its bidding process it has to now move swiftly to promote transparency by urgently publishing the full report to resolve the doubts that have been raised by Garcia.

At the moment, FIFA’s statutes regulating bidding and voting processes are too broadly worded and open-ended. Even Mark Pieth who heads FIFA Independent Governance Committee (IGC) once admitted that the World Cup bidding process is “a mix of corruption risk and conflict of interest concerns.” However, the IGC performs a “non-binding” role, and has “no decision power.” And the IGC can’t even look into past violations of Fifa’s statutes.

FIFA’s disciplinary code and code of ethics are so limited in scope and application (and unpredictable), thus falling far short of contemporary international standards against corruption. For example, whereas players, match officials, agents and spectators are subject to the disciplinary code, members of Fifa executive committee do not appear on the list. The executive committee in fact is the body that enforces the code! Nonetheless, unlike the disciplinary code, the code of ethics applies to all officials, presumably including members of the executive committee. Even so, in cases of bribery such as those documented by the report, possibilities for enforcement are limited and open to political abuse. There is for example no requirement to rescind bidding on the basis of proven allegation of corruption.

While FIFA in 2002 recognized the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), cases of corruption involving high ranking members of the executive committee are rarely taken to the court. In any case, Fifa statutes remain the primary basis for a CAS decision. While appeal against a CAS decision may be lodged before the Swiss Federal Tribunal, the tribunal is often reluctant to overturn any such decision.

Therefore, FIFA’s statutes and mechanisms will continue to provide opportunities for bribery and corruption unless the organization undertakes a ‘root and branch’ (and independent and transparent) review of them and show it can ensure accountability for alleged past wrongdoings by its leaders. Bidders for tournaments should know what set of rules they are dealing with and the process must be less susceptible to manipulation and corruption. A thorough, transparent, independent and impartial investigation is urgently needed, with all the requisite powers to trace and interview key witnesses, and to demand documents, testimony, and mysteriously disappeared Russian emails.

As Transparency International has recommended, FIFA must act swiftly to implement unambiguous anti-bribery codes, including declaring a zero tolerance of bribery and fully reflecting this in its operations, and imposing sanctions sufficient to serve as an effective deterrent to people who might otherwise be tempted to commit corrupt acts. FIFA can’t restore face to the “beautiful game” if it does not clean up its own systems and processes. Now is the time for FIFA to wake up to the magnitude of the problem and ease the nerves of World Cup fans with respect to the bidding process, and its operations in general.



Kolawole Olaniyan, is Legal Adviser, International Secretariat of Amnesty International, London

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