By Tony Attwood
If you have a loooooong memory and you tend to read my ramblings on the subject of corruption and finance in sport you might recall my rant about a tiny company in a tiny Swiss town that gained the broadcasting rights to World Cup matches across a swathe of central and South America.
Of course it couldn’t happen in Britain. Could it? One highly secretive firm buying up lots of rights for resale across the world. No, of course not.
Now obviously in what follows I am making no accusation that anything is being done that is wrong. Not at all. What I am saying is that given the history of corruption in the issue of selling TV rights to football matches, we need transparancy, so that the ordinary, regular football supporters can be assured that there is nothing underhand happening.
I know, of course, that what happens with Argentine TV rights is not what happens in Europe. But just as I would like PGMO to come out and tell us why it insists on having so few referees, and why it exists in acting in such a wholly secretive way, I would like all deals involving the televising of Premier League and FA Cup matches to be clear and open. And that includes knowing who is buying the rights, and who is then selling them on and what the price chain is, when the selling on happens.
And I want that assurance, quite simply, because of what we have seen with World Cup rights.
So when I read in the Guardian that a buyer of the TV rights to English football matches for broadcast outside of the UK is an agency that I have never heard of, I go scurrying around to find out more.
Of course just because I haven’t heard of them means nothing. I forget things, I make mistakes and I’m getting on a bit. But I like to find out.
The company mentioned by the Guardian is Pitch International. This company has bought all sorts of overseas rights including FA Cup matches, matches involving the England national team, and the English Football League’s international media rights. It is said they have spent well over £100m with the intention of then going off and selling these rights around the world.
So question one. Why don’t the FA and League sell the rights around the world themselves? After all it is not that there will be that many organisations interesting in buying.
At the heart of these deals is beIN, which is based in Qatar. And as the Guardian says… ” huge money has been pouring into English football from Qatar throughout the period in which the integrity of the country’s bid to host the 2022 World Cup has been repeatedly attacked, particularly by the former FA chairman Greg Dyke.”
And now the FA and League are doing deals with Qatar. And just to add a little to the melting pot, Pitch International won’t reveal who its ultimate owner is.
Now this is not me having a bash at Qatar in particular, but rather I am trying to raise the issue of not knowing where the money comes from and who ultimately is in control of deals. And I have that concern because that is exactly the problem with Fifa and all of its corruption.
Pitch has made a statement, reported by the Guardian, which says, “Due to confidentiality Pitch is unable to comment on ownership or contract valuation questions beyond the information previously provided.”
And as the Guardian quite rightly points out, “The EFL has strong regulations on transparency for its own clubs, requiring them to state and publish who owns them and that the individuals are “fit and proper” people to be owners.” That is good. And yet anonymity in purchasing is ok, exactly as it is with Fifa and its sale of world cup rights.
Which doesn’t mean anything is wrong. Rather that something could be wrong, and we would never really get to know about it.
The Guardian further adds,
“The FA, asked about the anonymity of ownership at one of the companies paying hundreds of millions of pounds in the “transformational” deal for English football, and the amount of money coming into the game from Qatar, with whose association the English FA signed a cooperation agreement last week, declined to comment.”
Of course when it comes to Swiss companies, at least we have the Swiss authorities who can look after the interests of us long suffering football fans. And we have the Swiss and United States law enforcement officials who tend not to be very happy with the way Fifa works in Switzerland. Dawn raids and all that. (As foretold by Untold when we noticed a change in the law in Switzerland and suggested that Fifa should hold its next congress in Peru. It is just so funny that they didn’t take our advice).
What we found in relation to Mountrigi was that they paid Fifa about $190 million for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, far less than their actual worth.
Of course I make no accusation that this is happening with England, FA Cup and League matches – I don’t have any information. And that in the end is the issue. I don’t have any information, and as a tax paying member of the United Kingdom, and a person who has supported the FA Cup by going to lots of matches, I think I ought to have some information.
What we found out eventually about the deal in Switzerland was that it involved Alejandro Burzaco, an Argentine businessman who last year pleaded guilty to bribing regional football officials so that the company he ran would get the rights to regional tournaments. His company, Torneos y Competencias, agreed with the United States Department of Justice to pay $112.8 million to settle the case.
Of course I am sure everything is hunky-dory in the selling of this next set of rights relating to matches in England. And because I am sure that there is nothing amiss, I really am bemused as to why everything is once again so secret. It is a bit odd, is it not?
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