PtG Article 19.05.2014

Sepp Blatter’s football family

"‘Omerta’ is about the Brazilian mafia and the football mafia in and outside Brazil, but it is also an attack on fellow journalists for their ignorance of the corruption inside FIFA," Selliaas writes in this review of Andrew Jennings' new book 'Omerta'.

When Sepp Blatter talks about the football family, he wants everybody to think that he cares for grassroots football, non-discrimination and the universal appeal of football. When Andrew Jennings writes about Blatter’s football family, he talks about Blatter’s Mob – the football Family with a capital F. Andrew Jennings’ new book ‘Omerta’ is about Blatter’s double family standards.

The renowned award-winning journalist and author Andrew Jennings is out with a new book, and the picture he paints of Sepp Blatter and his Family is frightening. ‘Omerta’ is about the Brazilian mafia and the football mafia in and outside Brazil, but it is also an attack on fellow journalists for their ignorance of the corruption inside FIFA. Jennings is calling for more interest in what he calls FIFA’s ‘Mafia Structure’.

Committed journalist and activist

Andrew Jennings has written several books and produced a number of documentaries on corruption in FIFA and the IOC. For this he has been banned from press conferences and from the headquarters of the world’s two most powerful sports organisations. That makes this book especially important and we should ask ourselves; Why this resistance?

For the leaders of the world’s most powerful sports organisations Jennings is more than annoying: he brings up easy questions that are hard to answer and his style is very straightforward – some say aggressive. Blatter is of the opinion that Jennings is a bully. However, he is not bullying the weakest part of the football family.

The anger of the Brazilians

In ‘Omerta’ (meaning the Mafia’s code of silence) Jennings shows why ordinary Brazilians should protest against their football leaders and to some extent explains why they take to the streets to protest against the government’s priorities regarding the World Cup (and Rio Olympics 2016). ’Omerta’ tells about murders and torture of journalists, and describes how Brazilian football leaders with strong ties to the country’s former dictatorship in the 1960s-1980s used football championships to become filthy rich through corruption and political control – with FIFA’s blessing, involvement and silent acceptance. A World Cup is an expensive event even without corruption, but the World Cup in Brazil exemplifies how corruption and bad management can multiply the deficits of an already overrun budget.

Romario’s new playing field

Romario – the former notorious goal scorer and now Brazilian congressman – is one of the good guys in Jennings' book. He has written the foreword where he praises Jennings’ work. Romario has joined forces with Jennings to fight football corruption. He himself is a product of the favelas and now he is fighting their cause outside the football pitch. This book is part of their fight against the corrupt football family, in Romario’s opinion.

Old stories, new information

Much of what we are told in ‘Omerta’ was also included in Jennings’ previous book ’Foul!’ from 2006. In both books Jennings shows us how FIFA bosses, such as João Havelange and Jack Warner, made themselves rich through the resale of World Cup tickets and media rights, how Sepp Blatter lured Nelson Mandela into thinking that South Africa would host the 2006 World Cup, and Sepp Blatter’s relationship to International Sport and Leisure (ISL) who went bankrupt after having paid millions in bribes.

What separates ’Omerta’ from ’Foul!’ is the focus on Brazil and the corruption related to the World Cup. But what is most important is that Jennings has more documentation on bribes being made – with and without Blatter’s knowledge – and that Jennings has systematised the data he has collected from court hearings and FIFA insiders. Jennings has documentation of 175 transactions he labels as bribes. Among these transactions one is of special importance. In 1997, ISL mistakenly transferred a large sum of money to FIFA’s headquarters. Back then, Sepp Blatter was the Secretary General of FIFA – but the money was meant for president João Havelange. This transaction links Blatter directly to corruption without him making any effort to clean up. Why? Omerta!

Code of Bad Ethics

But ’Omerta’ is also a criticism of FIFA’s ethics work – or lack of ethics work – and sports journalists’ lack of commitment to go after sport’s top leaders.

Firstly, Jennings is critical towards the ethics work because it does not try to clean up the past. The committees established are only looking into the future and by that sparing the corrupt leaders from punishment. The maxim seem to be: what happened in the past, stays in the past. And each time someone has to resign because of bad behaviour, they retreat without much fuzz and with friendships intact. Just like most Mafia Families do.

Secondly, and this is probably the best part of the book, Jennings discusses the outcome of FIFA’s new Code of Ethics, which was adopted in 2012. Jennings claims that this Code only strengthens Blatter’s position and control over his football family and has made secrecy even easier. This is contrary to what we are being told and contrary to the intention of the Code. Jennings also criticises Mark Pieth’s independent committee, which has recently published its recommendations for changes within FIFA. The two chamber ethics committee also gets a tough treatment in the book. Why do we not have access to the minutes from the committee’s meetings, Jennings wonders? What are they hiding?

Vote manipulation

Since Russia and Qatar were awarded the football World Cups in 2018 and 2022 a storm has raged around FIFA and much of the ethics work undertaken in later years is a result of this massive criticism. Jennings’ description of how South Korea and Japan in 2002, Germany in 2006 and South Africa in 2010 got the World Cups shows that things have not changed that much.

The reason for choosing two World Cup hosts at the same time was, according to Jennings, that all the corrupt FIFA bosses were afraid that the ethics work should go too far and that they in the future might not be able to use the awarding of World Cup hosting rights for their own economic gain. When Blatter these days say that selecting Qatar 2022 was a mistake, he is playing the same game as in 2000 when he told Mandela that they would get the WC in 2006 even if he knew the outcome would be different.

Ticket scandal and match-fixing

In the beginning of May the trial against the Norwegian company Euroteam started in a Norwegian court. Euroteam was part of a ticket scandal at the London 2012 Olympics and at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. (This story was revealed by two Norwegian journalists from the newspaper ‘Dagbladet’, Torgeir P. Krokfjord and Espen Sandli.) This ticket scandal, however, goes all the way back to the World Cup in South Korea and Japan in 2002 and is also part of a match-fixing scandal, indicates Jennings. He claims with great conviction that South Korea made it so far in the tournament (and knocked out both Italy and Spain) because the referees were paid to help South Korea get as far as possible. The reason was simple: Otherwise, the FIFA bosses who sat on tons of tickets would lose money.

Bach the reformer?

Andrew Jennings has also written a chapter on awarding the Olympics to Rio at the IOC-Congress in Copenhagen in 2009 (where I was a volunteer!). Those who think that Sebastian Coe would make an excellent IOC representative and that the new IOC president Thomas Bach will contribute with great reforms in the IOC might have to reconsider this after reading ‘Omerta’. This chapter is, in my opinion, the weakest chapter with regards to evidence. Jennings let us know the profiles of different IOC members without managing to tie them to the rope.

The best part of Jennings

Andrew Jennings is a controversial journalist and his continuous attacks on FIFA and their bosses have made several commentators blame him for England not being chosen as a World Cup host since 1966. He himself thinks that the reason for England not being awarded a World Cup is that England has not been corrupt enough. His style of writing is very confrontational and he often uses irony, which has also led to criticism.

‘Omerta’ is best when it analyses the facts and links them to the behaviour of the football 'Mob'. The descriptions of the current football mafia, the former Brazilian dictatorship and the Brazilian mafia are breath-taking and important.

The chapters where he tries to read Blatter’s mind and construct fictional dialogues between Blatter and his co-corrupters are not working that well, in my opinion. They are funny, but they take away the gravity of the book and may distance readers not familiar with Jennings’ previous work and the topics he brings up. The fictional angle presupposes that the readers have an extensive knowledge about different persons and international football in order to keep up. This makes part of the book less accessible for many readers and may contribute to the conception some people have of Jennings as a bully. That is unfair, for what Jennings is doing is trying to break down the real bullies in football.

Blatter re-elected?

If Blatter choses to run for FIFA president again (which he just recently announced) he will win, according to Jennings. The reason is simple: He and all the people voting for him are corrupt. Jennings is sure of that. I am not that dead certain that Blatter’s world is as simple as that, and therefore we need more journalists like Jennings daring to ask the simple questions. Even if the FIFA bosses are being given a hard time. We owe that to the football fans in Brazil and the rest of the world.

OmertàSepp Blatter's FIFA Organised Crime FamilyAndrew JenningsTransparency Books2014

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This review is an adapted version of a review first published on Andreas Selliaas' blog Sportens uutholdelige letthet where you can also find an interview with author of 'Omerta', Andrew Jennings.