By Tony Attwood
When I started Untold, 10 years ago this week, one of the issues that was on my mind was what appeared to be the threat of corrupt business practices swamping the game.
At that time we had club after club folding and re-emerging. We had clubs being bought by extremely dubious people, and then going through a multitude of strange deals before collapsing once again. There were articles on money-laundering, trafficking, attempts (often successful) at avoiding paying tax, there was Arry’s court case (in which of course he was found completely innocent), and so it went on and on.
In the early days we had a great correspondent on Untold who followed so many stories for us, but sadly she decided to move on (which is fully understandable since no one on the Untold team gets paid a penny for their work and the level of abuse our corruption pieces get really has to be seen to be believed), and our level of coverage declined somewhat.
But still we were able to keep tabs on the interesting evolution of Rangers FC in Glasgow, its demise, and how within one year it moved from playing in the Champions League to playing Peterhead away (ground capacity 4,000) in the fourth tier.
Rangers trials and tribulations with the laws governing taxation and the like gave us quite a lot of coverage, as did the movement of Portsmouth from FA Cup winners in 2008 to relegation to the 4th tier of the English game in 2014.
Much later we wondered just how many clubs Chinese businessmen would become involved in football as they took over Birmingham, Aston Villa, Wolves and West Bromwich (nothing corrupt alleged – just an interesting development. And of course most recently the notorious Olympiacos owner has taken over Nottingham Forest. (Ditto).
The tale of Liverpool’s owners has also given us a continuous source of interest, as we followed the tale in which their auditors KPMG qualified their audit opinion. The Royal Bank of Scotland (owned by us poor sods who honestly pay all the tax demanded of us within the UK) took Gillett and Hicks to court to force through a sale. However the eventual new owners then showed a certain disrespect for the truth as the chair was caught boasting at a US sports conference how he had repeatedly lied about the £40m buyout clause for Suarez. The Guardian in one of their better moments was one of the few papers to run the story that we we running that Liverpool were lying all the way through the saga, while most of the rest continued to act as if it were Arsenal with their £40m plus £1 bid for the player, were the crooks.
That Liverpool and Manchester City were subsequently banned from bringing new players to their academies ultimately came as no surprise. It got some coverage, but mostly we were out there pointing out a reality that some others didn’t want broadcast.
Of course most of the time when Untold thinks of corruption we think of Fifa, and I remain pleased about the little piece that we run on 22 January 2015 highlighting a change to the law in Switzerland that would allow the Swiss to investigate corruption taking place within an international organisation that was based in Switzerland.
This brought Fifa into line with the legislation already in place that allowed the Swiss to take a peek at the doings of dictators, despots, criminals, tax cheats, oligarchs and perhaps most relevantly money launderers.
As we reported at the time “Roland Büchel who was influential in seeing through the new law, said that the law applied to executive committee members and employees of all the sports federations that have sought refuge from prosecution for corruption by being based in Switzerland.
“The International Olympic Committee and Fifa are the most prominent but there are over 60 such enterprises in Switzerland, all taking advantage of traditional tax-exempt status and virtually zero competition regulation.
“Indeed, Fifa’s own anti-corruption adviser Mark Pieth made the point that Switzerland had become “pirate’s harbour” and urged the country to clean up its act in order for Fifa and the IOC to clean up theirs. In an urgent attempt to whitewash itself the IOC said that it “fully supports and welcomes this important move by Swiss lawmakers – it is in line with what the IOC already does.”
Roland Büchel also said that “It is up to Fifa and the IOC to really do their reforms and kick their people out,” he said. “If not, the law will come out much tougher.”
I was quite pleased with that piece because none of the mainstream news services seemed to notice the change, and indeed even though in a later article I suggested that Fifa really ought to move its HQ somewhere else if it didn’t want its senior staff to be arrested, it seemed Fifa didn’t take Untold seriously, any more than the world’s press did (I can’t think why).
But then on 27 May 2015, just four months after my little article, all hell broke loose, and in walked the FBI. We gave Fifa four months warning, and they didn’t take a blind bit of notice!
Of course I can’t go through all the corruption stories we’ve taken on, but just in case you are interested in going back over our old doings, there was the moment when a Fourth man was arrested in the Tottenham stadium bid affair, and I was rather pleased when we could report that legal action against Fifa over maltreatment of workers in Qatar had begun.
It would be wonderful if I could say we’d actually spurred any official action anywhere but of course we haven’t. What we have done is, on occasion, highlighted issues that others have ignored until the events have got so big they couldn’t ignore them any more. Which is an interesting reflection on our media, in itself.
And it is what encourages me to keep plodding on pointing out the appalling way in which the FA works, the secrecy of the PGMO and indeed the continuing corruption of Fifa.
Of course we didn’t make the raid on Fifa happen, all we did was report the change in the law when it was of no interest to anyone else. And that’s all we can do. Just keep on plugging away at the stories the media doesn’t fancy covering.
In this regard I still see Untold as just a case of “Keep On Keeping On” as Brenda Patterson said way back in 1970, and so many people have said since. That’s all we can do until someone takes notice.
Of course they could look at our track record at point things out, but no, best not. Don’t want to rock the boat.
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