By Tony Attwood
Another week, another Fifa corruption story. Which isn’t really surprising given that Fifa itself is the absolute embodiment of corruption and that corruption is supported by every football association that allies itself with Fifa.
The current story is that Canover Watson, a member of the Fifa’s financial watchdog has been arrested on suspicion of corruption and money-laundering in the Cayman Islands.
And really I could stop the story now, because when a member of your financial watchdog is arrested in this way, and your organisation has been tainted by financial scandals for over 30 years, the writing is not only on the wall, it has dribbled off the wall and washed across the road as well.
But what still makes this story interesting (rather than the weekly drip of Fifa corruption stories which Untold used to touch on but the reporting of which became so much like a regular dreadful reminder of how nothing was ever done by anyone to take Fifa out of the game that I started to ease back on them) is that Watson is one of only eight members of Fifa’s audit and compliance committee.
The committee then investigated itself.
“In agreement with the ethics committee we have asked Canover Watson whether he can share with the audit and compliance committee any additional information,” said Domenico Scala, head of the committee. I bet they have because if this case goes the way of others, one or two other people will be looking over their shoulders, people will be suspended, and then six months later they’ll be back. And six months is a long time to spend on a luxury yacht.
The Cayman Islands anti-corruption commissioner David Baines said that Watson was suspected of a “breach of trust contrary to section 13 of the Cayman Islands anti-corruption law, as well as abuse of public office … and conflict of interest.”
The allegations follow a police investigation into the introduction of a swipe card system in the Islands health care service. The investigation has also cited “suspicion of money-laundering contrary to section 133 of the Proceeds of Crime Law.”
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But this endless backdrop is something that is just never seriously recognised by footballing authorities in Britain, nor indeed our government. It gets talked about so that people can “say the right thing” and then we carry on as if Fifa was as trustworthy as a banker. Which by and large it is.
As for example the British Deputy Prime Minister recently told the Sunday Times that we needed to take a stand against Russian aggression in Ukraine and that Russia should not host the World Cup. “You can’t have this – the beautiful game marred by the ugly aggression of Russia,” he said.
The reality is, of course, that the beautiful game was destroyed long ago by Fifa with the agreement of every football association that stays in membership.
Sir Hugh Robertson, the former Sport minister who handled the UK’s 2018 World Cup bid, and who should have been arrested and charged with the offence of flagrantly wasting public money on stupid schemes, said that it would be “absolutely right in principle” to punish Russia in this way.
In fact in Britain we do occasionally join boycotts, but then we honour those sports people who break the boycott. Lord Coe who as Seb Coe was one of the boycott breakers in 1980 and in terms of subsequent rewards from government agencies he found that breaking boycotts can be a rather good thing to do.
Meanwhile, back with Fifa, we seem to have lost track a bit of Operation Jules Rimet, the investigation by police in Rio.
This was the undercover investigation via 50,000 tapped phone calls which led to multiple arrests concerning contracts to provide Fifa’s hospitality packages. The Match group of companies has endlessly won Fifa contracts to run ticketing, travel, accommodation and IT at the World Cup Finals since 1994. They got exclusive rights to hospitality and accommodation for the 2010 and 2014 events in what Fifa called (and the football world accepted, by continuing to be Fifa’s lap dogs) was “an open tender”. In 2011 Fifa then gave Match exclusive contractor until 2023.
Sepp Blatter’s nephew, Philippe Blatter, is chief executive of Infront Sports and Media – a minority shareholder in Match. If the Rio investigation is on-going then there could still be some revelations in this arena – but as I say, the British press has gone very quiet on the issue despite the tapping of 50,000 calls to get to the bottom of the illegal trade in World Cup tickets.
In just one other Fifa story of late, Gary Lineker had a few words to say about England’s last bid for the world cup which garnered two votes. Lineker said, “I was with David Beckham having a burger the night before the Qatar decision. We were out trying to get support; Prince William and David Cameron were out there, too, and I said to Becks: ‘We are the only country doing this. The whole thing smells; it is a done deal.’
“It makes you feel sick, actually, the whole Fifa thing, the corruption at the top level is nauseating. Sepp Blatter likewise has run it like a dictatorship for so long and he comes out with so much nonsense.”
One can understand the sentiment, even if it is horribly naive. For what has never been answered is how the FA and government could not know that the whole thing was a fix, when the rest of the world did. Why did they waste that vast sum of money – over £20m – making a bid that got two votes, when that money could have gone to grass roots football? Why spend it at all when the FA is crippled with the debt it has from building Wembley, when previously top games had been played across the country.
Lineker also said that to change, Fifa countries had to boycott the World Cup. He agreed that Fifa was corrupt and not fit for purpose.
He added, “England is too straight, in a way – and I am not saying that as a criticism. We should stand up for what is right and, if that means never hosting the World Cup again, fine. The only way it might change is for the clean countries to turn around and say: ‘You know what, we are not taking part in your tournaments.’ But I can’t see it happening. There is too much at stake.”
Well, thanks Gary. A bit late in the day to say these things, but still, you finally came out with it, which is better than never saying it at all.