FIFA, Where Is It Headed?

MJ Chung

As someone who loves football and cares deeply about FIFA, I continue to reflect on the future direction of FIFA, despite the unjust sanctions it has levelled against me.

Today, FIFA is a “smelly shell.”  It has not only become morally bankrupt, but its leadership has also collapsed.  It is unclear who exactly is running FIFA.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter and Secretary General Jerome Valcke have been suspended for 90 days pending an investigation on the suspicion of embezzlement and malfeasance.  Mr. Michel Platini, the UEFA President and FIFA’s influential Vice President, also received a 90 day suspension.  Mr. Blatter is being investigated by Swiss prosecutors, while Mr. Platini is said to be somewhere “between a witness and an accused person.”  Press reports, however, suggest that he is likely to be the latter.

With FIFA’s leadership in total meltdown and its future uncertain, Mr. Blatter’s lieutenants appear to be barely sustaining FIFA by running its day-to-day operations.  What we are witnessing today at FIFA is unprecedented in its 111 year history.  No one knows who is responsible for running FIFA and what the future holds.  FIFA is even sicker than it looks.

It is common sense that an organization facing such a crisis would declare a state of emergency and establish an interim body that can take responsibility for its daily operations.  FIFA cannot have an outsider take-over as a caretaker, as proposed by International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach, but it is true that something needs to be done.

When the existing leadership is not only acting unethically, but also under investigation by legal authorities for criminal behavior, its sub-units that used to do its bidding also lose their legitimacy.  That is why their activities should be suspended until a new leadership is put in place.  The legal authorities of the U.S. and Swiss governments are investigating high-ranking FIFA officials.  FIFA itself has hired an American law firm, Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, to conduct an internal investigation into its own corruption.  When a special prosecutor is appointed to take over a case, the public prosecutor stops its own investigation.  FIFA’s Ethics Committee should immediately suspend its activities.

However, common sense seems to have no place at FIFA.  The FIFA Ethics Committee that has acted as Mr. Blatter’s “hitmen” and continues to run things at FIFA.  They argue that because their members were nominated by President Blatter and approved by the Congress they have been independent all along.  However, nominees for the Ethics Committee chairman have never been rejected by Congress.  People who have been hand-picked by President Blatter, despite having gone through the formality of Congressional approval, continue to run FIFA as if they were from another world.

Football fans around the globe are of the view that had the FIFA Ethics Committee fulfilled its duties, FIFA would not be facing today’s crisis.  The Ethics Committee must take concrete and full responsibility for the current situation at FIFA.  It banned Harold Mayne-Nichols, the former head of the Chilean Football Federation who led the inspection teams for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding nations, for 7 years for having had an e-mail exchange with the head of a football camp in Qatar, asking if his son might be able to train there at his own expense.  In stark contrast, in the case of Mr. Platini, the Ethics Committee did not even launch an investigation even though after he voted for Qatar his son landed a job at a Qatar-owned firm as its chief executive.

While I was being investigated by the Ethics Committee, information that could only be known to the members of the Ethics Committee was reported by the press on numerous occasions.  I formally requested the FIFA Disciplinary Committee to investigate the leaks, but the request was rejected because the Disciplinary Committee ruled that there was no “evidence”.  What more evidence does it need in addition to all the media reports quoting “highly-placed FIFA executive committee and ethics committee sources”?  In contrast, when a FIFA staff member leaked a document detailing Mr. Platini’s wrongdoings, the Investigatory Chamber had an investigation and the staff was promptly fired by FIFA.

A person under investigation is not bound by the rules of confidentiality because he/she needs to prepare his/her defense by collecting material and seeking counsel.  On the other hand, the Ethics Committee has an obligation to follow its own regulations on confidentiality.  Yet, the Ethics Committee has shown that it has neither the will, nor the capacity, to maintain confidentiality.

All the important corruption cases at FIFA were brought to light only when U.S. and Swiss judicial authorities launched investigations, never by the Ethics Committee.  For its part, the Ethics Committee has reluctantly investigated only those cases that have already been unearthed by government authorities, such as the ISL case.  The only investigations that it has launched under its own initiative were against those who dared to challenge Mr. Blatter.

In the VISA-MasterCard case, the Ethics Committee even failed to investigate a corruption case widely publicized and tried by a U.S. federal court.  In this case, FIFA violated the obligation to honor the incumbency rights of MasterCard in negotiating the World Cup sponsorship contract and used various under-handed means to award the sponsorship to VISA.  FIFA went so far as to forge dates and the signature of VISA president in its contract with VISA.  MasterCard eventually filed a lawsuit against FIFA, and the case was closed after FIFA settled by paying MasterCard approximately US $100 million.  Mr. Blatter shifted all responsibility for this affair to Jerome Valcke, then marketing director of FIFA, and dismissed him from his position.  Six months later, however, President Blatter promoted Mr. Valcke to the position of Secretary General.  FIFA’s Ethics Committee never investigated this case.

The FIFA Ethics Committee has neither the will, nor the capacity to investigate critical issues within FIFA.  That is why, as New York Times article stated, “the word ‘FIFA’ coupled with word ‘ethics’ is seen by most as an oxymoron.”  The fact that an ethics committee exists within FIFA, an organization unfavorably compared to the Mafia, is in itself a bad joke.

Nevertheless, this Ethics Committee has the temerity to continue to point fingers at others in the name of “ethics.”  As the Bible says, they look at the speck of sawdust in their brother’s eye but fail to see the planks in their own eyes.

The current Chairman of Adjudicatory Chamber, Hans-Joachim Eckert, is the same person who prompted much controversy for publishing a redacted version of the Garcia report in 2014, which was only 1/10 of its original length.  Michael Garcia, who was Chairman of the Investigatory Chamber of the Ethics Committee at the time, resigned stating that the decision made by Chairman Eckert “made me lose confidence in the independence of the adjudicatory chamber.”

Even in a dictatorship, an independent judiciary system exists albeit as a mere formality.  However, no matter how formal these may be, a dictatorship is still a dictatorship.  If those who ran the judicial bodies under a totalitarian state insisted that they be put in charge of the judicial system after the collapse of the regime, because they were “independent,” it would cause a public outrage.  A poisonous tree can only bear poisonous fruit.

A parasitic organism can survive the death of its host for a little while.  What is currently happening at FIFA is like a parasitic organism roaming at will, thinking that it has become the host.

As of 2014, FIFA holds a cash reserve of $1.5 billion.  Those who are responsible for the current crisis are pushing FIFA deeper into chaos by trying to squeeze out every last penny of what remains of FIFA.  The interim FIFA President must freeze all of FIFA’s assets immediately.  Chairman Eckert of the Adjudicatory Chamber of the Ethics Committee and Chairman Borbely of the Investigatory Chamber of the Ethics Committee must first make public their salaries and address the allegation that they were bought-off by Mr. Blatter.

FIFA has become a “smelly shell.”  What it needs to do now is   remove President Blatter’s hitmen from FIFA.  An ethical examination of the Ethics Committee is the first step to reforming FIFA.