Ray Whelan arrest not only incident in Brazil
19 July ~ When all eyes were on the decisive stages of the World Cup the uncovering of an illegal ticket sale scheme by Brazilian police threatened to tarnish FIFA's image once more. The arrest of Match Services executive director Ray Whelan on July 7 for his alleged role in the scheme brought matters uncomfortably close to home, since the company handles sales of premium tickets, accommodation and hospitality packages for FIFA. With Whelan staying at the Copacabana Palace Hotel that also hosted top executives from FIFA, the scandal could hardly have been more awkward.
Whelan is alleged to be involved with a group that included the Franco-Algerian businessman Mohamadou Lamine Fofana. Days earlier Fofana had been arrested in an operation that saw another ten people apprehended by the police. Fofana reportedly made over 900 calls to Whelan at his hotel in a 30-day period. The gang, reported to have operated at four World Cups, was estimated to be making around £250,000 per game at the tournament.
Aside from the proximity to FIFA, Fofana has also appeared at public events with various Brazilian football stars such as Jairzinho. The episode also underlines how ticket touting now operates as a globalised business and poses further questions about the ticketing operations conducted on FIFA's behalf. Despite Match publicly defending its executive and arguing that no Brazilian law has been broken, FIFA withdrew Whelan's World Cup accreditation. Whelan's image was not helped when, after initially being freed, he spent several days as a fugitive, evading police who were preparing to rearrest him by using a side door to the hotel. His lawyer is also in hot water over facilitating his client's action.
The scandal linked to Whelan was just one of various ticket-related issues that emerged during the World Cup. Another involved the resale of tickets destined for the Argentinian FA. Despite FIFA secretary general Jérôme Valcke's insistence that FIFA is "waging a war" against the illegal resale of tickets, the Whelan case exposes once more the lack of effective controls of tickets destined for national football associations, players and sponsors. Touts operated freely in the vicinity of the FIFA ticket collection point in Botafogo.
Controversy was also triggered when touts explained to undercover reporters that the police were not under orders to curb their activities. Despite arrests inside the security perimeters around the stadiums, the policy at this World Cup looked remarkably similar to other big games in Brazil where touts often conduct their business without significant police intervention. Ticketing has been a long-term headache for FIFA in Brazil due partly to insistence that concessionary ticket categories, such as pensioners, should be able to buy discounted tickets. This was incorporated into the enabling legislation known as the Lei Geral da Copa (the General Law of the World Cup).
Many believe that Whelan will be saved by his relationship through marriage with the powerful Byron family, the Mexican owners of Match. In the meantime Whelan is in jail in the Rio suburb of Bangu, where in the 1890s another Briton, Thomas Donohue, was one of the pioneers of football in Brazil. With England's early exit, Ray Whelan may end be remembered as the Englishman who made the biggest splash at the 2014 World Cup. Robert Shaw