Ian Plenderleith goes in search of some serious football journalism and after reading a series of exposés of FIFA shenanigans finds some unintended laughs in the governing body’s code of ethics
For all the thousands of sites about football, very few are devoted to old-fashioned investigative journalism aimed at exposing the greedy and corrupt. One such rarity is Play The Game, a Denmark-based and funded site that calls itself “home for the homeless questions in sport” and covers in depth many stories neglected elsewhere.
The scoop behind the financing of the recent Spain v Argentina friendly, for example, played on a bad pitch that led to Maxi Rodriguez’s knee ligament tear, documents the usual depressing series of unscrupulous shenanigans now so commonly associated with behind-the-scenes business dealings in football. Other stories include Kenya’s attempts to be reinstated to FIFA and the site’s campaign to prevent the deportation of Mathare United president Bob Munro, a campaigner against corruption within the Kenyan FA.
There are features on match-fixing, too. You can read up on the background to games such as the 0-8 encounter between Finnish clubs FC Allianssi and FC Haka Valkeakoski in July 2005. “Sums invested in this game were unprecedented with money coming primarily from south-east Asia,” the site explains. “The ‘lucky’ winners were able to collect their money times 8787.” Alliansi had been purchased by a wealthy Chinese businessman one month before the game, a new coach was installed with nine new players making their debuts against Haka, while “the club’s goalkeeper was sent off to attend a ‘training camp’ in Belgium”. Still, at least it added to interest in the Finnish league for a day.
Best of all, though, is the website’s entirely reasonable seven-question letter to FIFA asking them to fully explain vague statements they made slandering the British investigative journalist Andrew Jennings for his book Foul!, about the world governing body, and requesting answers to questions in the book they had still failed to address. The reply from FIFA’s communications director Markus Siegler is a prototype of obfuscation, prevarication and officialese that should be closely studied by anyone planning a career in politics or public relations.
Jennings has his own site, Transparency In Sport, that includes the first chapter of Foul! in a pdf file, and the latest news on his attempts, together with Trinidad Express journalist Lasana Liburd, to nail FIFA vice president Jack Warner, the man who channelled Trinidad & Tobago’s entire World Cup ticket allocation to his family-run travel agency yet who remains mysteriously unpunished by FIFA.
As well as an account of a physical run-in that Warner and Jennings enjoyed at an airport last summer, the site links you to a transcript of his Panorama documentary on FIFA, The Beautiful Bung, at the BBC website, a simultaneously hilarious and alarming rollercoaster read that shoots from one FIFA stonewalling to the next, including the moment when the charming Mr Warner invites Jennings to “go fuck yourself”. You can even download the whole programme, if you can stand to see Blatter’s shifty features.
If you’re in a light-hearted mood, there’s only one place to go after you’ve read FIFA’s bleating about journalists not showing them the right respect, and that’s to their official website to read their code of ethics for anyone involved in the game, which includes the following in its introduction: “FIFA is constantly striving to protect the image of football, and especially that of FIFA, from jeopardy or harm as a result of immoral and unethical codes and practices.”
Warner’s copy is perhaps lost in the post judging by Article 3, “Basic Rules”, where officials “pledge to behave in a dignified manner. They shall behave and act with complete credibility and integrity.” I doubt former FIFA president João Havelange, scurrilously fingered by Jennings as taking a bribe of a million Swiss francs from the governing body’s former marketing partner ISL, could have expressed it better himself, had age and the creeping ambition of Mr Blatter not forced him and his benevolent smile off to retirement in Brazil.
“While fulfilling their task, officials shall avoid any situation that could lead to conflicts of interest,” the knockabout document continues in Article 8. “Private or personal interests include gaining any possible advantage for himself, his family, relatives, friends and acquaintances.” Unless, they carelessly forgot to add, your first name starts with a J and the personal interests happen to be a travel agency in Trinidad & Tobago.
Even before you get to the comically pious clauses on bribes and accepting gifts, Article 10, on loyalty and confidentiality, drops the ethical talk in favour of advising officials to remain “absolutely loyal, especially to FIFA, the confederations, associations, leagues and clubs”. So perhaps less loyal to the truth and honesty. Furthermore, it cautions that “any information divulged to officials during the course of their duties shall be treated as confidential or secret as an expression of loyalty”.
That is, if you happen to hear on the grapevine that the FIFA delegate to a small island nation found a fat brown envelope posted under his hotel room door the night before the last presidency vote, you’d be best off keeping quiet if you don’t want to end up bumped off the salary roll like FIFA’s former general secretary, Michel Zen-Ruffinen. Any other course of action would be disloyal and disrespectful, not to mention deeply unethical.
From WSC 239 January 2007. What was happening this month