Damian Collins is MP for Folkestone and Hythe. He is a founder member of the New FIFA Now campaign.
FIFA has suffered a shattering blow to what little remains of its credibility. It is in a deep crisis, the greatest in its history, and whilst I believe it is impossible for Sepp Blatter to remain President for much longer, the decisions reached in the next few days could have a profound impact on whether FIFA can even survive as the governing body of world football.
Following a lengthy investigation by the FBI, the United States Attorney General has now brought forward a 47-count indictment against 14 individuals, including two current Vice Presidents of FIFA, which alleges “corruption that is rampant, systemic, and deep rooted”. This is devastating reading, but sadly merely confirms what many of us have believed for some time about the way some executives at FIFA have conducted their business over many years.
Although Sepp Blatter has not been charged himself, no-one will believe that he is free of blame for what has happened at FIFA. He is responsible for the culture of the organisation as its leader. He can claim that he didn’t know what was going on; which many people will think is incredible, and if true would certainly make him unfit to continue to lead the organisation. If he did know what was going on, but sought to protect FIFA by keeping it within the family, then the authorities will ultimately get their man. The authorities both in the United States of America and Switzerland have made clear that their criminal investigations into FIFA, and the decision to award the World Cup finals tournaments to Russia and Qatar, are still ongoing. Sepp Blatter could yet be interviewed by them as part of their criminal proceedings
Under Sepp Blatter’s leadership FIFA has sought to frustrate and prevent any proper investigation of its affairs for decades, behaving as if it is above international law. It was only a few months ago that it sought to suppress the report of its own investigator Michael Garcia into allegations of corruption around competition to win the right to host the World Cup tournaments in 2018 and 2022. These allegations are now the basis of a new criminal investigation which has been launched by the Swiss authorities.
These allegations add further weight to the charge that the competition to host the FIFA World Cup tournaments in 2018 and 2022, was corrupted. Seven of the twenty-two people who voted on those decisions have been forced to resign following allegations of corruption. Chuck Blazer, who was then a leading member of FIFA’s Executive Committee, has now pleaded guilty to the US authorities to charges of “racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy”. There appears to be enough evidence now to suggest that this process of awarding the right to host the tournament was corrupted, and I believe that it must now be re-run.
Whilst the US and Swiss authorities are taking the lead in these investigations, the UK government can and must play a vital role in bringing FIFA to book. Last year I raised with the Serious Fraud Office, and the Solicitor General in a special debate in the House of Commons, the prospect of an investigation being launched into FIFA’s operations and the bidding process to host the World Cups in 2018 and 2022. There would be clear grounds for an investigation. FIFA conducts part of its global business within the UK, and some of the key meetings between officials, which are being investigated by the FBI, took place in London during the Olympic Games in 2012. The SFO would, I believe, have jurisdiction to investigate, and support the work of the FBI and the Swiss authorities.
It has also been reported that a substantial dossier of information was built up by the English FA, supported by government agencies, during the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. This allegedly covered the movements of FIFA officials and the tactics being deployed by the other bidding nations.John Whittingdale, the new Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has confirmed to me in parliament that the government would stand ready to support any criminal investigations, including sharing information that it may hold.
The ultimate sanction that can be used by the English FA against FIFA, would be to boycott future tournaments if there is no reform. This action, if taken alongside other leading football nations would bring the greatest direct pressure for change. It is the money generated by the players and fans of football in these countries that is the commercial engine for world football.
The global sponsors of FIFA must also now stand up and demand change. Their reputations will be tarnished by their continued association with this failed organisation. They should insist on an independent, root and branch reform of FIFA if they are to continue their support of it. The campaign group, New FIFA Now, of which I am a founder member, is urging football fans who are also customers of these businesses to lobby them directly, urging them to demand change at FIFA or to consider moving their financial support elsewhere. This pressure is starting to pay off with Visa now stating that FIFA needs a new “culture with strong ethical practices in order to restore the reputation of the game for fans everywhere”. Visa has further warned that “it is important that FIFA makes changes now…Should FIFA fail to do so, we have informed them that we will reassess our sponsorship.” The sponsors need to spell out, though, that this kind of change would be impossible if Sepp Blatter remains.