ZURICH Amid repeated allegations of corruption and lack of transparency, the Swiss-based International Federation of Football Association (FIFA) may finally be held accountable by the Bern government. In recent years, the organization’s top executives, including Swiss national, Sepp Blatter, president of FIFA, the governing body of world football, have managed to ignore accusations of inappropriate behaviour, notably with regard to the naming of Russia and Qatar as respective sites for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
Swiss parliamentarians are planning to vote this Friday on the first of two new laws , “Lex FIFA”, that will not only impose stricter oversight on FIFA, which operates as a non-profit foundation, but also some 60 other international sporting bodies in Switzerland, such as the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which has had its fair share of corruption allegations, the International Basketball Federation, World Archery Federation and the World Baseball Softball Confederation. Many of these organizations, including the IOC, say that they welcome the new legal initiatives.
This first law, which is expected to be approved but may still take until 2017 to be implemented, will treat top executives, such as Blatter, but also the IOC’s Thomas Bach, a German national, as “politically exposed persons,” a legal term used to define positions of influence which could be exposed to corruption, such as money laundering. FIFA officials, for example, have been accused of receiving monies and other benefits in return for their votes or influence to swing the Qatar vote in the Gulf country’s favour. Furthermore, FIFA has been earning hundreds of millions of dollars on television rights for global coverage of the World Cup placing it into a exceptionally powerful position of global influence with the sport.
The second part of Lex FIFA will aim to make sports’ bodies accountable to new money-laundering legislation drawn up by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) based in Paris. Established in 1989 by mainly European ministerial jurisdictions, but including countries such as China, United States, Mexico and Russia, this seeks to set standards and promote effective measures for combating threats such as money laundering and terrorism financing.
Lex FIFA, which has been pushed by Swiss parliamentarian Roland Buechel since 2010, would increase financial scrutiny of sports officials by ensuring that banks, which are legally required to ensure that funds are not of a suspicious or criminal nature, keep closer tabs on their clients. In 2013, FIFA declared almost CHF 1.36 billion in revenue, but pays lower taxes than private corporations because of its non-profit status. Buechel, who was concerned by the increasingly negative coverage of Swiss-based sports organizations, felt that this was undermining Switzerland’s own public image. “It has started to be embarrassing, it’s really bad for the country and it’s not necessary,” the Swiss MP told Reuters news agency. The law, however, is unlikely to come into effect until 2017.
Since 2010, eight members of FIFA’s decision-making Executive Committee have been sanctioned by FIFA’s ethics committee for corruption, or have been forced to resigned. For many football advocates, including England’s and other European football associations, FIFA has become virtually synonymous with ‘corruption’, thus threatening the overall credibility of the sport. The mismanagement of FIFA, some say, has also set a bad example for young people, who engage in the sport and follow world football with a passion.
Despite FIFA efforts to spin criticism away from the organization, its situation has not been helped by last month’s assertions by ethic investigator Michael Garcia that the long-awaited probe into the controversial bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups has been presented in a highly flawed manner. Garcia maintained that the 42-page summary of the 430-page report contained “numerous materially incomplete and erroneous representations of the facts.”
He also reported German judge Hans-Joachim Eckert, chairman of the adjudicatory chamber of the ethics committee, to FIFA’s own appeals committee. Eckert had claimed that both Russia and Qatar would be clear of substantive wrong-doing and would not be stripped of their hosting of the games. Instead, both England and Australia were criticized for their handling of their team bids. Simon Johnson, England’s former chief operating officer for the bids, referred to the summary as a “politically motivated whitewash.”
By and large, Swiss media, particularly in German-speaking Switzerland, has been less harsh on FIFA than other European countries, notably Britain, possibly because they do not like rocking the boat given the jobs and revenue created by such institutions. More recently, however, Swiss public opinion has hardened, particularly since the Qatar scandal, with pressure on Blatter, who is seeking an unprecedented fifth term, to step down because of the embarrassment he has brought to his country.
By Edward Girardet