|From Soccernet.com Friday, May 3, 2002|
How Blatter built the most corrupt regime in sport
By Andrew Jennings
If it wasn't so tragic, you would have to laugh. Here comes the leader of world soccer, demanding 'fair play in the upcoming elections', while his aides tour the globe, remorselessly buying votes with Arab gold.
If Sepp Blatter, the FIFA president, really is good for the game, as his organisation's slogans claim, then Hannibal Lecter should present Ready, Steady, Cook.
Today FIFA has two chances to pull back from disaster. The executive committee meeting in Zurich, the last before the World Cup, can block Blatter's aim to sack general secretary Michel Zen-Ruffinen, the game's most able administrator. And Blatter must face a vote of no confidence for squashing the internal inquiry into FIFA finances. Both will be knife-edge decisions.
Blatter's allies are beyond hearing common sense or caring about the good of the game. They fear that the profits power brings them will come to an end if Zen-Ruffinen is allowed to speak out today about the black hole in FIFA's finances and sparks a revolt by the national federations. They also fear the contents of a dossier Britain's FIFA man David Will is building about the colossal damage Blatter's years of vote-buying have done to FIFA. So prepare for the worst.
It was never this bad within the International Olympic Committee. When it was found to be corrupt in 1998 it muttered 'sorry' through gritted teeth (with fingers crossed behind backs) and slung out a few low- lifes.
New IOC president Jacques Rogge accepts that the subsequent reforms were cosmetic and has called a meeting to try to further clean up the house. He won't get far - but at least he is trying.
Blatter, although without the uniforms and insignia favoured by past IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch, now reads from his script. When Samaranch hit trouble he spent millions of Olympic dollars hiring New York spin masters Hill & Knowlton to divert the media.
Blatter has hired the consulting firm McKinsey to rescue him. Its team in Zurich is led by his nephew Philippe Blatter and fans are entitled to ask whether McKinsey is working for FIFA, which pays the bills, or for Blatter?
In the years of Olympic denial Samaranch would stare down allegations with: 'All my members are clean and I trust them 100 per cent.' It wasn't true and he had buried numerous secret, written complaints from bidding cities listing his members' disgusting depredations.
Blatter, likewise, insists: 'We are pretty sound financially and there is more transparency than ever.' Auditors KPMG produce loads of FIFA financial reports. I have read some, with a qualified accountant, and neither of us could figure out how much of the 2006 World Cup revenue has already been squandered.
Blatter is from the same stable as Samaranch. Both were selected by the German adidas company, owned by the Dassler family, in the 1970s as preferred candidates for the highest posts in world sport.
It was never a coincidence that the marketing company ISL, also owned by the Dasslers, acquired the exclusive contracts to make millions out of the rights to the World Cup and the Olympics.
The first major revelation of the sleaze at FIFA was published in April of last year. Under the headline 'A tale of greed, scandal and the men who sold the World Cup', we disclosed how obstacles were placed in the path of rival bidders to ensure ISL, and its German ally Kirch Media, acquired the TV and marketing rights to the World Cup of this year and 2006.
ISL's collapse a year ago cost FIFA huge amounts of revenue and many angry ISL managers know who to blame. They will support Issa Hayatou against Blatter in the presidential election later this month.
Early in the investigations, Blatter's Press spokesman, Markus Siegler, spent an hour in my hotel room gushing about the honesty of his boss. He could not have chosen a more appropriate place. We were in Trinidad, the power base of FIFA's most corrupt official, Jack Warner, with his 35 confirmed Blatter votes from the Caribbean region.
He attacks UEFA at every opportunity but that does not stop him taking hundreds of millions of dollars from the sale of World Cup TV rights in Europe. Blatter ensures he never runs short.
Several Warner-family scams to squeeze money out of FIFA. But one contract mystified us. Until last week.
Warner is a FIFA vice-president, chairman of its youth committee and, last year, appointed himself chairman of the organising committee for the FIFA World Under 17s Championship in Trinidad.
Its budget was scrutinised by the finance committee - deputy chairman, Jack Warner. For this tournament FIFA offered a contract for an intranet, with information kiosks in Trinidad hotel lobbies. It went to an American company, Semtor Inc, at a cost of $1.9million.
Success for a non- Warner company? A victory for fair play?
Semtor submitted its bid to FIFA officials on June 11 last year. Within hours the bid was submitted again, this time direct to Blatter and his loyal finance director, Urs Linsi. It came, by e-mail, from Warner.
Why would Warner lobby Blatter to get Semtor the contract? The answer lies in Clause 5: the payment of a $60,000 'liaison' fee to Warner's son Daryll. That money came directly from FIFA. So Blatter knew that young Warner was getting what some might perceive as a kickback on the contract.
Perhaps Blatter did not know that Jack Warner himself was on the winning team, receiving 'consulting' fees from a subsidiary of Leeds-based TeamTalk, which supplied stories and news to Semtor.
TeamTalk declined to talk about its relationship with Warner and what it paid him, other than to claim it 'inherited' him when it acquired an American subsidiary.
The tide of Warner sleaze that has engulfed FIFA extends to rigging elections at two FIFA congresses. Blatter is now hopelessly compromised. It is not proven that he knew of voting fraud, but he refuses to condemn it and declares the matter closed.
On the disciplinary committee for the World Cup sits Jamaican Football Federation president Horace Burrell, whose only claim to football fame is corruptly putting his girlfriend Vincy Jalal in the empty seat of Haiti at FIFA's 1996 congress in Zurich. Burrell would seem a prime candidate for investigation. Instead, he will judge players next month.
Nor will Blatter explain his own role in the collapse of ISL. Nor the extravagance of his presidential office, the vote-buying through the GOAL development project or the continued payments to at least one executive committee member who was sacked months ago.
One man who has been reported to FIFA's disciplinary committee is Somalian FA president Farah Addo, who earlier this year told about bribes rejected by him - but accepted by as many as 18 other vulnerable African officials - to vote for Blatter.
The man Addo claims was behind the hand-outs to African officials in 1998 and again this year, Qatar's FIFA executive committee member Mohamed Bin Hammam, is not under investigation. Nor will be this week's allegations of a repeat promise from Bin Hammam in Tripoli to African countries.
Blatter claims he is suing Addo in a Cairo court. Addo said yesterday: 'If he doesn't sue me, I'll sue him. We are fed up in Africa with Gulf billion-aires interfering in African affairs.'
By dusk tonight we'll know if good or evil has won the day in Zurich.