FIFA, What Should Be Done?


* Revised on 30 December 2015

2015 was a year of humiliation and disgrace for FIFA.  It must have been disheartening for so many young people for whom football is a source of hope and inspiration.  It was a year that gave me much food for thought.

FIFA became rotten to the core, run for decades as a closed system by a handful people who wielded absolute power by controlling its finances, jobs and tournament venues.  Ever since I joined FIFA in 1994 as Vice President, I campaigned for greater transparency and spoke out against unethical behaviors by Presidents Joao Havelange and Sepp Blatter.  I tried to reform FIFA, once again, by running in the upcoming FIFA presidential election.  However, my candidacy was undermined by President Blatter and his cronies.

In May 2015, the world was shocked when the depth of FIFA’s corruption was revealed through the investigations by US and Swiss authorities.  The corruption that I had worked ceaselessly to warn against finally came to light.  President Blatter who had built up this system and Michel Platini, his self-anointed successor, have been sanctioned.  Several Executive Committee (ExCo) members and officials have been arrested.  However, it is still doubtful whether FIFA can ultimately transform itself into a transparent and clean organization.

It is ironic that FIFA’s Ethics Committee, an organization which has willfully overlooked corruption within FIFA while using every means at its disposal to come after me for daring to challenge President Blatter, is now belatedly claiming to be a “clean hand” to bring President Blatter to justice.  As long as entities like the Ethics Committee comprised of such hypocritical officers continue to exist, a meaningful reform within FIFA is impossible.

The Ethics Committee, referred to as “President Blatter’s hitmen” during a U.S. Senate hearing on FIFA, revealed its true nature when it started a formal investigation against me last January.  In March 2014, FIFA’s Ethics Committee interviewed Dr. Han Sung-joo, the Chairman of Korean Bidding Committee for 2022 World Cup.  During the interview, Mr. Cornel Borbely, then Deputy Chairman of the Investigatory Chamber of the Ethics Committee, said, “there are no allegations against you or your team.”

Then, on January 20, 2015 the Ethics Committee suddenly informed me that it was launching an official investigation against me.  Since then, the “Investigatory Chamber” of FIFA’s Ethics Committee sent me questions three times: sixty-nine questions on April 14, 2014, fifty questions on February 13, 2015, and nineteen more questions on March 17, 2015.  The excruciatingly petty and frivolous nature of the questions and the repetitiveness with which they were asked, made me suspect from the beginning that the Ethics Committee had an agenda of its own.  Many of the questions were highly inappropriate, insinuating and sometimes downright offensive.  For example, they wanted me to tell them whom I had voted for to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.  I told them that the voting was done by a secret ballot for sound policy reasons and that they were violating regulations by asking such a question.  Basically, what it came down to was harassing and badgering.

The allegations were just as preposterous.  Initially, they alleged that I engaged in “vote trading” with an English ExCo member and gave “the appearance of offering a benefit” by sending letters to my fellow ExCo members regarding the “Global Football Fund.”

In December 2014, Mr. Geoff Thompson, the English ExCo member, allegedly claimed that he had traded votes with me back in 2010.  The Ethics Committee must have thought that it had found a critical piece of evidence against me.  Sending me a transcript of an interview between Mr. Michael Garcia and Mr. Thompson, the Ethics Committee asked: “Would it surprise you to learn that the Chairman of England 2018, Mr. Geoff Thompson has admitted to agreeing to trade your vote for Korea 2022, in exchange for England’s vote for Korea 2022?”  Mr. Thomson alleged that the vote-trading occurred when together we paid a courtesy visit on Prince William at the Prince’s request in his suite at Baur au Lac Hotel in Zurich on December 1, 2010, one day before the vote.  Prime Minister Cameron and Dr. Lee Hong-Koo, former Prime Minister of Korea and Ambassador to Great Britain, were also present.  However, according to the transcript, Mr. Thomson could not even remember whether Prince William was present when he and I and PM Cameron were allegedly making this deal.

I retorted by asking whether it was even conceivable that Mr. Thompson and I would be making an illicit ‘vote trading’ deal in such company, whether the Ethics Committee was accusing Prince William and the Prime Minister of Great Britain of being complicit in vote trading the day before the vote, and if so, whether they would be investigating the Prince and PM Cameron as well.

When I pointed out these details, the Investigatory Chamber wrote me back demanding to know how I had obtained the transcript which they themselves had sent me.  The incompetency and irrationality of the Ethics Committee was astonishing.

The Ethics Committee eventually decided to drop this charge.  Even they must have thought that this allegation was ridiculous.

“The appearance of offering a benefit” refers to the letters I sent to fellow FIFA ExCo members explaining Korea World Cup 2022 bid committee’s “Global Football Fund (GFF).”  There was nothing unusual about the GFF.  It was perfectly in line with the football development projects that FIFA required as part of all national bids.

For example, England’s bid team for the 2018 World Cup proposed a “Football United” fund which was described as, “a unique chance to create a new global fund for football that aims to match FIFA’s current spend on football development . . . imagine what this would mean for your Confederation.”  If the scope of Football United fund was intended to “match FIFA’s current spend on football development,” this would have overwhelmed the GFF by 10 times.

In its bid for World Cup 2022, Qatar proposed “grassroots and talent-scouting programmes in Thailand and Nigeria,” “support through football in 16 schools in Nepal and Pakistan,” and “construction of 22 modular stadiums for countries in need,” among other things.

The final blow to the Ethics Committee’s case was a copy of a letter that Jerome Valcke, then-Secretary General of FIFA, had sent me regarding the GFF back in 2010.  Already back then, FIFA had looked into the “issue” and determined the matter closed.  Valcke wrote to me and Dr. Han Sung-joo, the Chairman of the Korea Bid Committee, that “[b]ased on explanations given by you and Dr. Mo[ng]-Joon Chung, please be informed that we consider the integrity of the Bidding Process not to be affected and consequently deem the matter as closed.”

When neither allegation could be substantiated, they started to accuse me of violating procedures during the investigation.

In a letter dated June 5, 2015, the Ethics Committee informed me that it will be extending the investigation for breach of “confidentiality.”  It was referring to three personal letters that I had written President Blatter to strongly protest against the proceedings.  I had written them so that President Blatter would not exercise undue influence over the investigatory proceedings.

It turns out that President Blatter, instead of answering my personal letters, simply turned them over to the Ethics Committee.  The Ethics Committee then used them as an excuse to extend its investigation against me.  If President Blatter really was not involved in the investigatory proceedings in any way, he could simply have kept my letters to himself, or could have responded in person, or through his private lawyer.

Be that as it may, “confidentiality” obligation usually does not apply to the accused party, nor is it covered under any of FIFA’s own Code of Ethics articles.  This is because, in order to defend himself, the accused must collect evidence and support for his defense from related parties and in doing so, it is inevitable that he lets others know that he is under investigation.  However, beyond this, there is no incentive for the accused to publicize the facts of his investigation.

Now, “Confidentiality” may be required when the accused shares information with co-conspirators, so as to gain unfair advantage and to undermine the accuser’s case.  However, I doubt that the Investigatory Chamber considered President Blatter to be my co-conspirator.  The only reason I wrote the letters was to inform President Blatter, the legal representative of FIFA, that the investigation was excessive and unfair.

Then, starting in August, numerous leaks from the Ethics Committee were made to the press regarding its investigation against me.  One report said that I was being investigated for the charitable donations that I made to Haiti and Pakistan in the past for earthquake relief.  It was a false leak.  I was never charged for these.  What they were doing was to cynically politicize my philanthropy which I had been engaged in all over the world by portraying them as bribes.  Another specified the length of sanctions to be imposed on me and yet another even specified the dates on which the sanctions would be announced.  The reports claimed that they obtained such information “from highly-placed FIFA executive committee and ethics committee sources.”  When I protested the use of such underhanded tactics by the Ethics Committee to besmirch my reputation, it accused me of “defaming” it.

In September, the Ethics Committee informed me that it is extending its investigation once again, for making “allegations against the independence of the Ethics Committee.”  The committee referred to a sentence in my campaign brochure which stated, “The heads of independent judicial committees should not be nominated by the president as they currently are, but by an ‘independent search committee.”

Apparently, the Ethics Committee is very sensitive to remarks questioning its independence.  The Ethics Committee claims that it is independent of President Blatter because it is approved by the Congress.  But the point is, it was always President Blatter who nominated the Ethics Committee chair and the Congress never turned down President Blatter’s nominees.

In late July, the Investigative Chamber of the Ethics Committee concluded the investigation and turned the case over to the Adjudicatory Chamber of the Ethics Committee, recommending a 15 year ban against me.  It added another 4 years for having “defamed” the Ethics Committee.

Then, the Ethics Committee proceeded to hand down a sentence over a case in which it was an interested party.  The members of the Ethics Committee were claiming that I had defamed them, but then they decided to preside over the case themselves.  The committee rejected my request for Judge Eckert, the chair, to recuse himself from presiding over my case on the grounds that I had missed a 5-day deadline for recusal requests.  The committee even failed to adhere to one of the most basic principle of a fair judicial process.

On October 8, the Ethics Committee sanctioned me for six years for violating the “general obligation to collaborate” and for “defamation” of the Ethics Committee’s reputation.  Failing to substantiate either “vote-trading” or GFF-related allegations, the two original substantive allegations against me, the Ethics Committee resorted to sanctioning me for procedural violations allegedly committed in the course of the investigation.

The reason that the Ethics Committee badgered and harassed me with an endless series of questions for over a year was to find any pretext to sanction me.  In the end, all they could find were petty procedural issues that they pinned on me during the course of the investigation.  FIFA, which has been described by the international media as “one of the most corrupt organizations on Earth” has sanctioned me for trivial procedural matters which would not have arisen had they not started the investigation.  As they say, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eyes?”

Ever since early July, my friends in FIFA that I met in Vancouver and Philadelphia had warned me that the Ethics Committee would sanction me in order to prevent me from running as FIFA President.  What they told me turned out to be all too true.

On the same day they announced their sanctions against me, the Ethics Committee announced that it was imposing a 90-day provisional ban on President Blatter and Mr. Platini for suspicions of exchanging bribes.  By simultaneously announcing sanctions against me with what they knew would be sensational news, they tried to hide the injustice of their sanctions against me.

President Blatter and Mr. Platini ultimately received 8 year sanctions each for their actions.  However, the decision by the Ethics Committee is grossly unfair.  A corrupt act such as bribery, on the one hand, and pointing out problems of the Ethics Committee, on the other hand, are not comparable offenses.  Justice that has lost all sense of balance and proportion is injustice.  That is why the New York Times has called FIFA Ethics Committee an “oxymoron.”

The Ethics Committee had stood idly by when FIFA found itself at the center of corruption scandals involving ISL, a sport marketing company, and VISA-MasterCard.  In the ISL case, when pressed to conduct an investigation, it simply exonerated President Blatter.  As for the VISA-MasterCard sponsorship corruption scandal, the Ethics Committee has yet to even mention the issue, let alone investigate it.

Now that their patron President Blatter finds himself in a difficult situation, the Ethics Committee has begun to act as if they finally understand what it was that the media have been pointing out so insistently over decades.  People who should be the target of reform act as if they are spearheading it.  Punishing those critical of President Blatter and now repaying their former boss with betrayal, the Ethics Committee is undertaking a contemptible attempt at whitewashing its past.

Even after its decision to suspend me, the Ethics Committee continues to deliberately sabotage my effort to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).  In order for me to appeal my case to CAS, I must first go through FIFA’s internal appeal process.  For this I need to have FIFA Ethics Committee’s “reasoned decision,” a document that explains why I received the sanctions.  However, almost three months after my sanctions, the Ethics Committee has yet to send me the “reasoned decision.”  It is not only a blatant violation of justice but also of common sense.

Those who enjoyed power under President Blatter’s shadow now try to kick out their host and have begun to act as if they run FIFA.  As long as FIFA is run by such people, the prospect for a fundamental reform is dim.  This is like a police organ that served as a puppet of a brutal dictator proclaiming itself to be the protector of justice after the fall of the dictator.

Still, what made 2015 a bearable and ultimately meaningful year for me was the support and encouragement that I received from so many who love the game of football.  Mr. Lennart Johansson, former UEFA President, Dr. Henry Kissinger, former US Secretary of State, Ms. Karen House, former managing editor of the Wall Street Journal, and Mr. Michael Bloomberg, CEO of Bloomberg L.P., among many others, expressed their concerns over FIFA’s corruption and gave me counsel on how to best reform FIFA.  I also have fond memories of conversations with greater reporters like Mr. Andrew Jennings and Mr. Rob Hughes who have done so much to uncover FIFA’s dirty secrets.  I pray for Mr. Jennings’ speedy recovery.

Reforming FIFA will not be easy with the structure and people who currently make up FIFA.  It is too early to despair, however.  As long as we have fans who love football, we have a bright future.  In the New Year, I hope that football can, once again, become a source of hope and inspiration.