By Keir Radnedge
On January 10, in Zurich, FIFA holds its annual gala. The major social event of the world federation’s year sees it present a host of awards.
I have a prize-winner to suggest: FIFA’s fair play prize should go to the Sunday Times.
Had it not been for the newspaper’s painstaking, time- and money-consuming investigative work, then Messrs Adamu, Temarii, Fusimalohi, Aloulou, Bhamjee and Diakite would still be talking corrupt practices in the grandest corridors of world football.
Jerome Valcke, FIFA’s secretary-general, in response to a question about the credibility of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup ballots on December 2, told the Ethics Committee media conference: “This has shown we have all the tools to ensure that no-one can challenge the way we run the process.”
If so, why was it a newspaper which showed up Adamu and Co for what they are and what was going on at the heart of the empire commanded by FIFA President Sepp Blatter and Valcke?
If they had known, they would have taken action, wouldn’t they? One must assume so. The truth is, they knew nothing until the Sunday Times, metaphorically, opened their eyes.
Given that context of ignorance to unethical behaviour at the heart of the executive committee, full credit to Ethics Committee chairman Claudio Sulser for taking the drastic action he did; his zero tolerance policy made this the most painfully embarrassing and humiliating day in FIFA’s 106 years.
Whether that will harm Blatter’s grip on power at the election congress next year, whether it will harm Valcke’s status as his right-hand executive officer, appears unlikely.
But it was depressing to hear Sulser lecture journalists present at the “mea culpa press conference” on media ethics. He may have been regularly on target when he played in attack for Grasshopper and Switzerland, but he was badly off target here.
Sulser would not have had a single case come before him, let alone seven (charges of bid vote collusion were dismissed) had it not been for the Sunday Times.
In doing what it did the newspaper stood up for fair play in world football, for fair play at the heart of FIFA, for fair play in the World Cup bidding process.
That deserves to be recognised. Freedom of the media, freedom of the right to investigate wrongdoing and expose it, is the mark of a society which values truth, transparency, honesty and credibility above all else. Above money, commercial convenience, personal fiefdoms.
Fair play to the Sunday Times. If FIFA does not have the grace to acknowledge the fact, then suspicion will linger that what really upset its movers and shakers was exposure and not corrupt practices.
When the revelations were published, FIFA’s own local newspaper – the Zurich daily, Tages Anzeiger – headlined an article on the scandal by saying: “Blatter should thank journalists.”
He has the perfect stage: in Zurich on January 10.
This is an edited version of an article first published on the AIPS website. Keir Radnedge is editor of the SJA Bulletin and chairman of the AIPS football commission.