After the Swiss Tages-Anzeiger newspaper headlined its front page yesterday with “Sepp Blatter justifies corruption at FIFA”, the governing body of world football has hit out at the accusations.
The headline from the Tages-Anzeiger, relating to the corruption scandal at FIFA, represents a concerted attack on FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter. On Thursday, Basler Zeitung reported that the prosecutor’s office of the Swiss canton of Zug, which has been investigating FIFA and its Brazilian officials Joao Havelange and Ricardo Teixeira for corporate fraud, had dropped criminal proceedings. FIFA asked the Tages-Anzeiger for a right of reply to the article, a request that was turned down by the newspaper. Instead, that reply will be published in today’s edition of Basler Zeitung.
Some would say “He who excuses himself accuses himself”, but the headline in yesterday's Tages-Anzeiger leaves us with no option but to make some clarifications with a view to dispelling all doubt on certain issues. First of all, the headline “Sepp Blatter justifies corruption at FIFA” is utter nonsense. The FIFA President has never condoned corruption or justified such a crime and never will.
In the interview published on FIFA.com to which the Tages-Anzeiger referred, Blatter said: “You can’t judge the past on the basis of today’s standards. Otherwise you would end up with moral justice.” Yet this is precisely what the Tages-Anzeiger is threatening to do with yesterday’s article.
Learning from mistakes
To say that the legal situation in Switzerland has changed is not an opinion but a statement of fact, one that should in no way be interpreted as an excuse or a justification. If we are to judge past events however, we cannot and should not overlook the context. In that respect, the Tages-Anzeiger is being dishonest in trying to imply things from Blatter’s words. Justification implies approval, but here the exact opposite is the case.
At the FIFA Congress held in Zurich in June 2011, strong measures were implemented as part of the reform process. A further obstacle is due to be cleared next week, when FIFA’s Executive Committee will name two independent chairmen of its Ethics Committee, which will now comprise two chambers – a key condition laid down by the Independent Governance Committee, chaired by Professor Mark Pieth, to strengthen FIFA’s judicial system.
All this comes as a result of the ISL case, and indicates that people can learn from their mistakes. Attempts will be made to adapt those structures which are failing to keep pace with the development of football. Paradoxically, FIFA’s incredible success is in itself the issue. What was a relatively modest organisation became a billion-dollar enterprise, thanks in the main to the success of television, and also to FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter.
CHF 1.3 billion in reserves
FIFA now has CHF 1.3 billion in reserves, a figure that elicits envy, spite and suspicion. How has that been possible? The answer is because football is popular and has obviously not been run that badly in the last few years. Going back to the ISL case, however, it was FIFA who, on Blatter’s initiative, took steps back in 2001 to press criminal charges, thereby initiating the case itself.
It was also thanks to Blatter that the Ethics Committee was finally set up in 2006. And it is the FIFA President who is once again the driving force behind the current reform process. An independent Audit and Compliance Committee has already been set up, and the Ethics Committee has been split into an investigatory body and an adjudicatory body.
That is not the issue here, however. What we are dealing with here is the fact that FIFA-bashing is becoming increasingly popular. To criticise FIFA is to follow the crowd and is guaranteed to draw applause from all sides. As a result, an article needs to be published to redress the balance.
The Tages-Anzeiger failed to do this yesterday, however. The Swiss Federal Court confirmed this week that Blatter is neither actively nor passively corrupt. He has not taken bribes and has not offered them to anyone – not now, not ever, and yet he has been accused of this time and again.
This could have been worthy of a headline, but such positive news is not worthy of front page attention. This telling piece of information merited barely a footnote in Tages-Anzeiger. A quality newspaper should be forthright in its criticism, but also be factual, balanced and impartial. Yesterday's Tages-Anzeiger failed to meet any of those requirements.
Walter de Gregorio is FIFA’s Director of Communications and Public Affairs.