No tears shed for Teixeira in Brazil, now it is FIFA’s turn
"Out Ricardo Teixeira" the signs from a protest last summer say. This Monday it was announced that he is stepping down. Photo: guizocchio/Flickr
Some fireworks and street celebrations were reported from Brazil after the surprise announcement this Monday, 12 March, that 64-year-old Ricardo Teixeira is stepping down not only as almighty president of the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF), but also as head of the Local Organising Committee of the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
Though the Brazilian government and a big part of Brazilian society is relieved to part with a key figure as charged with corruption and power abuse scandals as Teixeira has been since he became the country’s football president in 1989, the enthusiasm among Teixeira’s sharpest critics is blended with scepticism:
“It is necessary to repeat that in football the problem is the structure, and whoever enters in the CBF will not change anything. They are swapping six for half a dozen, and even older,” writes investigative journalist Juca Kfouri, referring to Teixeira’s successor, José Maria Marin, who at 79 is the oldest of CBF’s five vice presidents.
Marin is a former politician who served as São Paulo governor under Brazil’s military rule in the early 1980s and is widely regarded as a Teixeira yes-man. He earned dubious national fame when elegantly slipping a gold medal into his pocket at a youth football tournament in São Paulo in January, though Marin claims that the medal was a gift.
At his age, Marin is widely regarded as a transitional figure, and some observers say that the transition to a more lasting solution is already planned by Teixeira. According to insightful sports business blogger Erich Beting, Marin can keep the World Cup 2014 cap, but will transfer CBF powers to the next vice president in line, Fernando Sarney, 56.
If this prediction is true, Brazilian soccer will fall from the frying pan and into the fire. Fernando Sarney is the son of Brazil’s former President and longest sitting senator, José Sarney. But he has made a reputation of his own as a highly disputed businessman with interests in a wide range of companies, including entertainment, sports and media companies.
Most notably he has been under investigation since 2006 for heading a criminal organisation with the purpose draining the Ministries of Transportation and of Mining and Energy of public money. The police investigations are not concluded, and for a period Sarney succeeded in blocking important newspapers from writing about the affair at all.
He is also accused of being involved in illegal participation on the transfer market, an activity allegedly based in the club the Sport Club Maranhão do Sul – of which he is also said to be the real owner – although conflict of interest rules prevent him from appearing as such officially.
Gave in to political pressure
Since President Dilma Roussef took office in January 2011, distancing herself from corruption in general and Teixeira in particular, political pressure on Teixeira to leave has been mounting.
Teixeira has always been controversial, narrowly escaping sanctions after congress investigations at the beginning of the millennium, and is presently under suspicion for several cases of fraud, including one involving a national team friendly with Portugal in 2008. Why his 11-year-old daughter Antonia should receive a one million USD gift from a family friend, FC Barcelona’s President Sandro Rosell, last year also remains unclear.
Internationally, Teixeira is tainted as one of the main beneficiaries of the ISL corruption scheme by which 140 million Swiss Francs were paid out as bribes mainly to top FIFA executives in the 1990s.
Information about the ISL affair presented to the parliament by, among others, Play the Game Award winner Andrew Jennings, has contributed to the political unease over the country’s football leadership.
Politicians see Teixeira as an embarrassment to a country that is trying to boost its global reputation through the World Cup 2014 and the Olympics of Rio 2016.
Former World Cup winner Romario, who is now a congress member, celebrated Teixira’s departure by twittering: “We exterminated a cancer from Brazilian football.”
The government measures its reaction more carefully.
As a member of FIFA’s troubled Executive Committee since 1994, Ricardo Teixeira has not been regarded as a credible go-between who could resolve conflicts between FIFA and the host country of the World Cup.
Currently, FIFA is screamingly impatient with the Brazilian congress politicians who are much delayed in bringing the legislation in harmony with the contracts made between FIFA and the administration of former President Lula.
The parliamentary spokesman for the ruling Workers’ Party, Vicente Cândido, says to the daily Folha de São Paulo that many fellow deputies have been focussing on the allegations against Teixeira.
“Now there can be a more positive agenda which is good for the cup. This climate of ’he leaves – he does not’ was not good for anyone.”
However, FIFA Secretary Jêrome Valcke, who recently asked the Brazilians to give themselves a kick in the behind and had to apologise for being so outspoken, cannot be sure that the departure of his close friend Teixeira will make the congress lift their feet from the brakes.
Some of the difficult issues have nothing to do with CBF, but are genuine conflicts between FIFA business interests and the host country’s interest. For instance, Valcke has refused to negotiate FIFA’s demand that beer must be sold at the World Cup stadia because of FIFA’s sponsor contract with the American brewery group Budweiser.
However, in a country plagued by social misery in general and spectator violence in particular, lifting a ban on alcohol in the spectator stands is very problematic. Concerns over stadium security and – again – image risks may also influence the politicians.
And some may even see Teixeira’s departure as an opportunity to tighten the government’s grip on the World Cup arrangement. Senator Álvaro Dias, from the social-democratic opposition party PSDB, says that it is time for the government to make more room for itself:
“Since we prepare the World Cup with public resources, the government has to assume a responsibility,” Dias says.
FIFA statutes say he must leave
Though Teixeira’s alliances in Brazilian football are more or less intact, it remains to be seen how much control he can exercise from the sidelines. Formally, he has not yet withdrawn from his seat at FIFA’s Executive Committee, but if FIFA follows its own statutes, this will happen very soon.
The statutes say that “Any member of the Executive Committee who no longer exercises his official function shall be immediately replaced by the Confederation or Associations which appointed him for the remaining period of office.”
This may be why a FIFA statement released yesterday stresses that Teixeira is appointed by the South American confederation CONMEBOL, and that “FIFA has not received any official communication from Teixeira or from CONMEBOL regarding this position.”
If ‘immediately’ means the same in the world of FIFA as it does outside, Blatter will soon have to axe one of his closest collaborators. In 2011, the axe hit former allies like Jack Warner and Mohammad Bin Hammam, and now it is Teixeira’s turn.
“I do not believe a minute that these news have come as a surprise to Blatter. They must have talked this procedure over for weeks or months,” says investigative reporter Andrew Jennings, who for a decade has been the main source of revelations of FIFA corruption.
Jennings refers to the destiny that binds former FIFA President João Havelange, Sepp Blatter and Ricardo Teixeira together. Both Blatter and Teixeira owe their FIFA career to Havelange, who – as a result of the ISL investigation – was forced to leave the International Olympic Committee in December at the age of 95 – but continues as the Honorary President of FIFA.
Havelange handpicked Teixeira as his successor at the helm of CBF in 1989, not because Teixeira had any track record in football whatsoever, and not even a brilliant business career, but simply because he was married to Havelange’s daughter. Since then, key posts at the CBF have remained within the family.
“These three men have been joined at the hip in their fight against the consequences of the ISL affair,” Jennings tells Play the Game.
“For tactical reasons Blatter has had to pretend that he supports publication of the full ISL dossier, but Teixeira and Havelange fight on his behalf in the Swiss courts to keep the ISL dossier and the crooks’ names in it kept secret.”
“Blatter will probably say as little as possible now about Teixeira. His main task is to gather votes for the upcoming congress in Budapest by the end of May and hope that Teixeira is forgotten by then,” Jennings estimates.
Feared to lose passport
There may be a direct link between the most recent development in the ISL affair and the timing of Ricardo Teixeira’s departure. Officially, Teixeira is leaving because of diverticulitis, an inflammatory condition of the bowel. Though the condition is painful, it is perfectly curable and does not appear to be a convincing reason for retirement.
According to the leading daily Folha de São Paulo, Teixeira became nervous last Thursday when he read the news that a committee under the Council of Europe recommends an investigation into FIFA’s past corruption affairs.
For some time, Brazilian authorities have approached their Swiss counterparts in order to get key ISL documents handed over, and Ricardo Teixeira may have travelled to his base in Florida before risking that his passport is taken away from him.
Teixeira left it to his successor, José Maria Marin, to announce his exit by reading a letter from Teixeira at a press conference on Monday. In the letter, Teixeira says that he leaves “with the sense of mission accomplished” and hints that he should have had more public recognition:
“It’s not easy to preside passion. Football in our country is associated with two things: talent and disorganisation. When we win, talent is praised. When we lose, it’s about disorganisation. I did what was within my reach, sacrificing my health. I was criticised in the losses and undervalued in the victories.”