Uncovering FIFA's dirty game

July 24, 2016

FBI raid in Miami gathering evidence on FIFA. May, 2015.

The Dirty Game: Uncovering the Scandal at FIFA
Andrew Jennings
Arrow Books, 2016
305 pages

The unravelling of the empire of Sepp Blatter, the multi-millionaire president of world football, began in 2014.

Blatter fretted as he presided over that year's Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA) Congress in Brazil. The corrupt, money-flushed bribe-takers and expense fraudsters from the world's national and regional football associations, flanked by mounted police, fought their way through protesters who were angrily chanting “we want schools and hospitals FIFA-style”.

The following year, eight of Blatter's thieving peers from the FIFA elite (its executive committee) were arrested by police, and Blatter was forced to announce his impending retirement.

How had it come to this? In The Dirty Game, British investigative reporter Andrew Jennings hangs out FIFA's dirty laundry. Jennings played a crucial role in the crumbling of FIFA's criminal enterprise by providing confidential FIFA documents to the FBI identifying corrupt FIFA officials.

Jennings locates the rise of FIFA corruption to 1974, when the head of Brazilian football, Joao Havelange, the darling of South America's many military dictators and a bit-player in Brazil's organised crime network, was elected FIFA president. He funded his vote-buying through pilfering US$6 million from the Brazilian Federation for Sport, which he headed and treated as his personal ATM.

Blatter became his understudy as FIFA general secretary. When he succeeded Havelange as president in 1998, he applied his master's lessons, such as the power to sign, with no counter-signature, FIFA cheques to himself and his family, friends and anyone needing to be bribed.

As big corporate money moved in on global football and its centrepiece World Cup, the scope for major corruption expanded. It included fraudulent travel and accommodation expenses, black market rackets with World Cup tickets and a host of tasty perks and fringe benefits.

Their biggest revenue stream, however, was bribery — expensive gifts, suitcases of cash, brown bags stuffed with dollars, cheques made out “pay to bearer” — for their votes on World Cup hosting, sponsorship and broadcasting rights.

All monies received were hidden in FIFA's “opaque financial reports” and, of course, laundered through their offshore tax haven accounts.

There are many corrupt fingers in the corporate-fattened FIFA financial pie, but special mention must be made of two master FIFA crooks, Jack Warner and Chuck Blazer.

The World Cup self-enrichment of the Trinidadian, Warner (president of CONCACAF, the Central and North American regional football federation), was extensive. It included his theft from Australian taxpayers for their 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids, which was “in a class of its own”, says Jennings.

Warner wangled a cheque for A$462,200 from Football Federation Australia for an “upgrade” to his bogus “Centre of Excellence”. Purportedly established for Caribbean football development, it was, in reality, an expensive leisure and entertainment complex built and run by thieving $30 million from FIFA and CONCACAF.

Warner also took bribes from Blatter to fund his Caribbean interests in return for the three dozen votes he controlled from the region's micro-states shoring up Blatter's re-election prospects.

Chuck Blazer (CONCACAF's US general secretary), took more than $400 million of FIFA and CONCACAF money by automatically garnisheeing 10% off all CONCACAF television and marketing revenues. This financed every dollar of Blazer's lavish living costs, including luxury apartment rent ($18,000 a month) in Trump Tower in New York.

It was Blazer who, when tumbled by the FBI, pulled the plug on FIFA. A grotesque glutton, Blazer feared, more than anything else, a diet of jail food for the rest of his life. He sang like Pavarotti, turning informer on dozens of his FIFA cronies.

Facing his own comeuppance is Blatter, whose secret salary, expenses and bonuses of around $4 million a year came courtesy of his vast powers of patronage. The FIFA fish rots from the head.

Jennings' book focuses on the detailed forensics of how a dogged journalist uncovered FIFA corruption, rather than developing a broad analysis of the money culture of FIFA.

But Jennings deserves praise for his patient pursuit of the corporate exploiters and the financial bloodsuckers from the world's football bureaucracies who engorge themselves off the people's game.

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