How Much Has to Happen and the Sunday Times

FIFA was hit by crisis when the Sunday Times exposed corrupt activity among high ranking FIFA officials. Photo (c) flickr user AsianFC and licensed under a Creative Commons 2.0 licence.


Comment by Declan Hill
Canadian reporter Declan Hill comments on the newest FIFA corruption case and the Sunday Times investigation that brought it out in the open.

How much has to happen, before something happens?
–John Le Carre

“World Cup Votes For Sale” – Sunday Times, October 17, 2010

A very good investigation. Really, really good journalism on an important subject of public interest. Full congratulations to the Sunday Times team and if you have not read the article, you should.

The strength of the story comes not from finding a FIFA executive committee member who allegedly confesses on tape to wanting to accept bribes. In the last few years, we have seen this type of incident before with various Bulgarian and Paraguayan FIFA executives either being indicted or caught on tape offering to take bribes. What makes the Sunday Times Insight Team’s expose so powerful is that they have not simply caught two executives allegedly making damaging statements on hidden camera, but they also spoke to a range of former and current FIFA officials who, reportedly, said that there was a culture of corruption in some of the bidding process. This speaks to systemic corruption inside arguably FIFA’s most important role – deciding the location of the World Cup. If the article is true, then this is a powerful force for change. To restore the credibility of the organization FIFA must establish a credible anti-corruption integrity unit staffed with outsiders, as UEFA has done. At the moment, Blatter has said that FIFA will investigate these allegations. The question that all football fans and journalists should ask is – who will investigate? Where are your credible, disinterested investigators who can really look into matters like these? The answer, so far, is that FIFA does not have these people.

Two small complaints about the article. One, it is unclear from the text whether the Nigerian executive who is alleged to have asked for £500,000 for ‘personal projects’ where the money went through the bank accounts of a relative living in Europe and the Oceania executive who wanted money for a soccer academy were the same thing. If an executive gets the sporting infrastructure of his country built up it is not personally enriching yourself. This point will, I presume, come out in subsequent articles and the follow-up should be carefully watched.

The other criticism about the Sunday Times article is that – sadly – it is written in that disturbing ‘Little Englander’ spirit that unfortunately accompanies much of public discussion in England: ‘We – the English – would not bribe anyone.’ UK World Cup bid sabotaged by shifty, underhanded foreigners is the clear message. It avoids a couple of points. One, England might lose the World Cup bid for reasons other than corruption. (Where would you rather watch a football match: Coventry or Malaga?) And two, how do you know English football is not corrupt?

I ask because of another very good article that came out in a Rupert Murdoch owned newspaper this weekend – News of the World – (the same people who broke the Pakistani cricket scandal) announced that the German police had established links with corruption in English football. I have been saying much the same thing for the last two years, but, as a Canadian journalist, I have not been able to get any UK media outlet to back me to do a proper investigation. Hopefully, now, we will start to see some proper investigations begun into the real state of football in the UK.

This article was first published on Declan Hill's Blog on 18 October 2010, and is republished on Play the Game's website with kind permission from the author.


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