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World Cup: Red card for FIFA

Excited about more World Cup fun with Germany vs. the US Jun 26? Not so fast. Call him a killjoy, but Andrew Jennings is hammering in the last nail in the coffin of FIFA's credibility with his new book on that “desperate old thief” Sepp Blatter.

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Photo by Marcello Casal Jr./ABr (Wikipedia Commons)

Excited about more World Cup fun with Germany playing the US on Thursday (June 26)? Not so fast. Call him a killjoy, but British journalist Andrew Jennings is hammering in the last nail in the coffin of FIFA’s credibility with his new book on that “desperate old thief” Sepp Blatter.

As all eyes are turned towards Brazil, where 32 nations as incarnated by 11 men in shorts are battling for the World Cup trophy and the $35 million that comes with it, they seem to be blind to the less cheerful off-pitch reality: the jaw-dropping multifarious corruption surrounding the world’s single biggest sporting event. UK investigative reporter Andrew Jennings has been onto the facts for years, and he’s now hammering the last nail in the coffin of FIFA’s credibility with a new book published in April, Omertà: Sepp Blatter’s FIFA Organised Crime Family. In it he reveals how football’s international governing body functions like the Mafia. Its boss, the “desperate old thief” Sepp Blatter, must go.

Kick-backs, bribery, vote rigging, ticket laundering… that FIFA is a corruption-ridden gang, seems to be a fact you helped establish with your previous book (Foul!: The Secret World of Fifa: Bribes, Vote Rigging and Ticket Scandals, 2006), a BBC documentary, and many articles. What led you to write this latest book?

Well, I’ve done a lot of work on organised crime in the past and I’ve also met the Mafia out in Palermo. I’ve studied the academic definitions of organised crime and then looked at FIFA and noticed that it was structured like an organised crime family. It just ticked all the boxes defining organised crime. Loyalty comes up and the prices come down to keep you ‘loyal’. The loyalty comes with the 209 national associations and it doesn’t matter what you, me or anyone else in the world thinks, as long as they’ve got 50 percent of those associations, and it’s quite easy to pay off a lot of them.

I wrote a few pieces for academic magazines and then I went to Rio again. I went looking for background, because the first question you ask yourself is, “How did this happen!?” As soon as I started enquiring properly, people said, “Well, don’t you know?” It turns out Joao Havelange (former president of FIFA, 1974-98) was mobbed-up. He was with Castor de Andrade, the biggest gangster at the time. There were massive scandals including ticket rackets, marketing contracts and huge bribes. That was Havelange’s view of the world but luckily for him, he was covered by football reporters and football reporters don’t know how to investigate organised crime, and so they pretend it doesn’t happen. I wanted to explain to myself as well as to the public why FIFA had gone so badly wrong.

But since 1998, Sepp Blatter has been in charge. Have things changed?

It’s like a Rolls Royce, you can change the driver but it doesn’t change as a wonderful piece of machinery. Blatter helped Havelange set up the structure of loyalty and thieving from FIFA and the sponsor’s money as well as bribing at every level of the organisation.

Can you expand on the ‘omertá’ concept? Why do you think no one speaks out?

There were undercover investigators from The Sunday Times in England who secretly recorded and filmed a lot of people at FIFA, and the ones who talked about corruption and bribery got the biggest punishments because they broke the biggest law of ‘omertá’ (silence). The ones who didn’t give that kind of bribery information more or less walked away.

How does this system of organised crime work?

About 40 percent of World Cup tickets are sold to the black market. National associations, particularly from the developing world, order thousands of tickets and sell them straight into the black market. A lot of it is sold as packaging. Travel agents offer full packages with flights and hotel rooms etc. It’s a lot of money and it’s all tax free!

The latest scandal is that the World Cup 2022 was given to Qatar. Who was the €5,000,000 bribe paid to?

It’s paid to individuals. There are 23 or 24 various members of the executive committee and you need half of them to win a vote. So you pay half and then you get what you want. But of course the World Cup is never going to happen in Qatar.

Why? Because of the whole scandal and investigation?

First of all, nobody wants to go to Qatar. Who wants to go to there to play football!? Bribes were paid to get into Qatar. It was 12 dirty old men, not the world of football, not the millions of fans. The fans don’t want to go, the players don’t want to go, the clubs don’t want to go, and in fact Blatter, having let the boys have the money, is now trying to figure a way to get out. It all comes down to climate. Can you imagine all of the Western football leagues closing down for six to eight weeks in the winter just because 12 dirty old men took some bribes? It’s a fantasy! They bought the World Cup but they can’t sell it because nobody is willing to go.

How can Blatter get out of this, then?

Well, we have to get rid of Blatter. He’s passed his sell-by-date. If he were in the meat isle of the supermarket he would smell. He’d be covered in green mold! FIFA is now a joke. If he gets 51 percent of these 209 associations, UEFA will walk away if they don’t get out of Qatar and they will re-vote and it will go to somewhere with a decent climate.

It seems that no country can be chosen as a host nation unless they pay for it. No bribes, no World Cup. That was even true for Germany in 2006…

Bribes have always been paid. Leo Kirch paid bribes in 2000, which was discovered by German journalists, and well done to them [Kirch’s media group went bankrupt in 2002 largely due to the debts associated with the purchase of sports rights for its television channels]. Germany is actually a good place to have a World Cup. It’s a great country to play football in, with a great football record. So that’s not a problem that the money went in. They’ve pushed their luck too far now and now they’ve gone to a country where you can’t play football.

How can you stop the bribes?

All empires come to an end. The British Empire came to an end, there was a German Empire in Africa once and that came to an end. FIFA has just got too crooked.

So the only way to end this corrupt system is the end of FIFA?

No. The end of Blatter.

Would a new man change the structure at all?

I think you need two things – you need a really new untainted, clean president, which shouldn’t be difficult really, and you need to put pressure on a few areas. One is to get the Swiss government to force Blatter to go online. Just like you can find out what Ms. Merkel earns and what David Cameron earns. FIFA has to go online and if it doesn’t, the Swiss government should say “Get out of here by the end of the year.” If Blatter doesn’t like that, then they can find a new home for FIFA. You know he doesn’t disclose how much he pays himself? It’s only football, it’s only kicking a ball about! Most governments in the world now, certainly Western Europe, America, Australia, South Africa, do freedom of information but the world of FIFA doesn’t.

It sounds so obvious when you say it, but it seems that despite all the investigation and exposure that you and the Sunday Times have done, nothing ever changes.

It was like a landslide. One big collapse. FIFA and Blatter are in a complete state of collapse now. It’s so bad that he has to go to the congress of African football and denounce The Sunday Times as racists!

How is your personal relationship with Blatter?

I don’t know really, but I’ve been banned from all FIFA press conferences since 2002.

Did you receive any pressure or threats?

No, they don’t threaten because professional criminals don’t care what the press say. No one is going to run into a bank with a shotgun and then say “Oh I really don’t like what Andrew Jennings is saying about me,” because that doesn’t make any money. The fact is, Blatter is a criminal. He’s never sued me but he has threatened and talked about it.

Why did you decide to create your own e-publishing company?

It’s quicker. Working on a book takes months. Submitting the manuscripts, going to the lawyers and editors etc. It can all take about six months or more to get a book out.

Do you think that basically everyone, including Brazil, paid bribes for the current World Cup?

It happens in different ways. There are clean people at FIFA, not all of them are crooks but they are out-maneuvred by the criminals, they are in the minority. The thing with Brazil is that FIFA did not give them the World Cup, Blatter gave it to the crooked Ricardo Teixeira and they all looted it because there was so much money. Just look at how the budget has tripled! Everyone has their hand in the pot in Brazil and that’s why there was protest. President Dilma Rousseff herself isn’t corrupt though, but she let it happen.

And what about Russia?

Well that’s an interesting question. Let’s put it this way – we have to believe that bribes were paid on behalf of Qatar. I’m not saying Qatar paid, just like Germany didn’t pay for 2006. They knew about it [laughs] but Leo Kirch did the paying. When they voted in 2010 for a dozen years ahead, they had no idea what the world economy would be like in 2022. The moment they voted for two World Cups in a row, you knew that the disgusting dirty old men were worried that they might die before they got the second lot of bribes! Russia and Qatar are both very rich countries, just the sorts of countries FIFA want to play in.

There’s an anti-Jennings Facebook group. What do you say to those people who say “Oh, let us just enjoy the World Cup. Stop spoiling it!”

Well, we have freedom of speech, thank goodness. So if you want to say you don’t like me, you’re free to do it but I don’t respond to the three or four people who set up some Facebook page.

Are you watching the World Cup right now?

I’m too busy writing to watch the World Cup. I’m not a sports reporter, I’m an investigative journalist.

So you think that football without FIFA’s boss could be clean?

There’s an old expression – “The old fish rots from the head”. I think we should get rid of this 78-year-old joke, the desperate old thief. UEFA will probably get rid of him and so will the sponsors. Have you seen Blatter lately? I think he’s in a concrete bunker somewhere under São Paulo!