Monday, April 23, 2012

Council of Europe Comes Down Hard on FIFA

Last month I commented on the Council of Europe's report on corruption in sport and also on FIFA's reply to the report. Today, the COE has published an addendum to that report that includes a blistering response to FIFA (available here in PDF), including a call for an investigation of Sepp Blatter.

Most news coverage focuses on the inclusion in the addendum of testimony to the COE from Thomas Hildbrand, Special Public Prosecutor for the Canton of Zug (Switzerland), who discussed some previously unreleased details related to the ISL case. That is no doubt interesting, but here I focus on the rejoinder offered by the COE to FIFA's critique of its report.

The response is comprehensive and pulls no punches-- remarkably so coming from a government organization, particularly one as staid as the Council of Europe.

Here is how the response ends:
  • Mr Blatter is the President of FIFA, but he is not FIFA and he should not confuse what is in his own interest with what is in the interest of the organisation he is supposed to serve.
  • Asking FIFA to improve its governance, the transparency of its accounts and to take steps to shed light on the scandals which tarnish its image is hardly interference; it is just common sense.
  • Lastly, the independence of sport – to which we remain committed – should not become a defence for those who abuse their authority. It is wrong to have accusations without proof, but it is our duty to ask for the truth to be sought and established.
The money managed by FIFA is money that belongs to football and not to its officials, but in addition no sports organisation can become a place where the law does not apply and where corruption and fraud are in practice tolerated and go unpunished. What is at issue here is compliance with the rule of law.
In the addendum the response to FIFA begins at section 11. It includes a response to a claim by FIFA that allegations made against its president Sepp Blatter in the dispute with Mohamed bin Hammam had been dismissed by the FIFA Ethics Committee. The response includes a call for an investigation of Blatter.

The COE responds as follows:
With regard to FIFA’s reaction to our third request, I asked for a copy of the full decision whereby the FIFA Ethics Committee rejected the allegations made by Mr bin Hammam against Mr Blatter and, if applicable, a document indicating the full extent of those allegations. FIFA has declined to provide us with a copy of those documents. Based on information divulged in the press, we know that the Ethics Committee dismissed all Mr bin Hammam’s allegations; but it also emerges that these allegations referred exclusively to the fact that Mr Blatter had been informed beforehand of the action which Mr bin Hammam was alleged to have taken. Accordingly, there was no investigation to determine whether Mr Blatter had been able to profit unduly from his institutional position – in a manner prejudicial to FIFA – during the period prior to the presidential election. A detailed and exhaustive investigation is imperative. We have the right to know the truth, and ascertaining the truth can trouble only those who have something to hide. Since the issue regarding Mr bin Hammam seems to be closed, I now propose clarifying our request and limiting it to verification of Mr Blatter’s actions, in the hope that it will at last be possible to rule out any misappropriation.
Strong stuff.

A small note -- the COE picks up on the same exchange rate red herring that I discussed here, but actually, the exchange rate effect is even less than that suggested by the COE.


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