PtG Comment 21.11.2014

FIFA scandal - The Usual Suspects

In FIFA, silence is more valued than transparency and fair play, says Andreas Selliaas in this comment looking at FIFA's handling of the Garcia report.

Absurd theatre without manuscriptThe development of the FIFA scandal after Hans-Joachim Eckert’s presentation of the summary of the Michael Garcia report last week has taken the form of absurd theater without manuscript. The only thing that can save the rest of credibility, though not the face of FIFA, is to make the whole Garcia report public. It may violate Swiss law and it may hurt where it hurt most – the solar plexus of Sepp Blatter – but this farce has to end. The faster, the better. Sometimes even Fabergé eggs have to break to make a decent omelett.

FIFA’ school of Beckett

The US attorney Michael Garcia - who has led and given name to the report – has been in charge of the investigatory branch of FIFA's Ethics Committee. Hans-Joachim Eckert - head of the judicial branch of the Ethics Committee - presented the summary of the Garcia report last week. When Eckert acquitted Qatar for corruption and ridiculed the only two whistleblowers interrogated in the report – both women – the US attorney raged. This presentation was not in line with his findings, he claimed. Garcia now intends to appeal the presentation of Eckert’s summary of his report. Both are part of FIFA’s ethics body, but they cannot agree on the ethics of Garcia’s presentation. To make this a complete mess, Sepp Blatter has sent the Garcia report to the Swiss court so they can investigate traces of corruption. I guess Blatter has read the report even if he has claimed he has not. The rule against obstruction does not apply outside the football pitch, it seems. Samuel Beckett could not have done it better.

Doper’s manuscript

To the world outside of FIFA, Eckert’s presentation was a disaster. He gave a clear impression that in FIFA the fox guards the geese and at the same time he gave a clear message: if you mess with FIFA, FIFA messes with you. On the other hand, I don’t think his job was to repair the already stinking reputation of FIFA. His job was to protect the VIPs of FIFA by exaggerating the irregularities of those trying to cooperate with the Garcia investigators and trivialise the irregularities conducted by those who the FIFA bosses do not want to piss off. The whole Garcia process and Eckert’s presentation make resemblance to the many doping revelations in the past years. Those pretending to say the truth and nothing but the truth have the tendency to say what most people already know and no more than what they think others will find out anyways. A lot still remains unsaid in this scandal. However, Michael Garcia is an American and what we have seen in different doping cases the past ten years is that angered American investigators have the tendency to get the last word. Has Blatter underestimated US attorney Garcia?

The fragility of a whistleblower

Two of those suffering the most from FIFA’s absurd handling of the investigation are the two female whistleblowers mentioned in Eckert’s summary. In a Sunday Times interview Phaedra Almajid and Bonita Mersiades (former employees of the bids of Qatar and Australia, respectively) both tell that they quit their jobs in the bidding committees due to what they found to be irregularites in their organisastion. They are both angry at Garcia and Eckert for being identified and they both feel betrayed by FIFA. They were promised anonymity and now everybody knows their role as whistleblowers. They even fear for their life. This is not what whistleblowing should be about.

Desperate letter

I was able to get hold of Phaedra Almajid’s open letter to Garcia where she presents her frustrations over the whole investigation process. In her letter, Almajid writes that she feels betrayed by FIFA and the exposure of her as a whistleblower - an identification that may have put her life in danger. She strongly questions the integrity of the whole Garcia investigation. The letter is hurting, but it is also an important document, which I hope leads to the full publication of the Garcia report.

Threatened into silence

Almajid was director of international relations in Qatar 2022’s bid committee from which she resigned in 2010 because she believed the bid committee used foul play and spent too much money on the application. Qatar 2022 did not like this. Under pressure from the bid committee, she signed a confidentiality agreement in 2011 about what she had been part of while working with Qatar 2022. The single mother and her children would be endangered if she did not sign the declaration, she claims.

Silence is golden

The FIFA scandal just gets bigger and bigger each day. The letter from Almajid should not be neccecary in a fair process towards the truth about the World Cup bids of 2018 and 2022. The letter is a desperate attempt from a lonely soul to save her own reputation and perhaps her life. This case also shows that in FIFA, silence is more valued than transparency and fair play. I am sure there are bigger fish to catch in FIFA’s dam of silence than a single mother with two kids. Now it is time to hook them. Start by making the Garcia report public!

More information

Find Pheadra Almajid's open letter here