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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Blatter faces test of his resolve to clean up Fifa

Executive meeting could reveal which officials received kickbacks dating back to 1990s
By Graham Dunbar in Zurich
Thursday, 20 October 2011
Sepp Blatter will outline long-awaited reforms of football's governing body at the two-day Fifa meeting
Sepp Blatter will outline long-awaited reforms of football's governing body at the two-day Fifa meeting

  • Sepp Blatter is preparing to deliver long-awaited reforms to try to repair football's battered reputation, and the Fifa president may start by finally naming the senior officials accused of taking kickbacks in the 1990s.
Blatter promised zero tolerance of corruption after winning a fourth – and final – four-year term of office in June in an election that was rocked by the worst bribery scandal in the governing body's history.
That scandal in the Caribbean, which Blatter was accused of helping orchestrate to ensure victory, removed continental presidents Mohamed bin Hammam and Jack Warner from the governing body Fifa's high command, and added to allegations of vote-rigging, secret payments, ticket scams and unethical favours that have long shrouded Fifa.
Now, the case of Fifa's former marketing agency, which collapsed in 2001, has come under renewed scrutiny in Switzerland and Brazil. The issue threatens to cast harsh light on Blatter's predecessor, Joao Havelange; the head of Brazil's 2014 World Cup organisers, Ricardo Teixeira; and two more continental bosses, Nicolas Leoz and Issa Hayatou.
Blatter will present his plans at a two-day executive committee meeting starting today, which will also weigh whether to reveal which football officials received millions of dollars in kickbacks from the ISL agency.
Fifa is currently stopping a Swiss court from releasing documents which confirm who took payments, but that legal battle has been complicated by Brazilian investigators seeking details as they probe Teixeira over possible money-laundering offenses.
Blatter's challenge to lead Fifa toward a more credible future therefore involves confronting an often murky past. Still, 208 football nations entrusted him with the clean-up task, after having had effective executive control of Fifa for 30 years in which its wealth, political influence and notoriety has surged.
"I am the captain of the ship," Blatter told his Congress in June, pledging to put Fifa "back on the right course in clear transparent waters."
FIFA has sought help from Transparency International (TI), a global watchdog which advises governments and corporations how to lead honestly. "I am very optimistic," TI's sports adviser Sylvia Schenk told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "I think there will be some good proposals and we will see what those proposals are on Friday."
In August, TI presented a wish list of reforms and asked Fifa to order independent probes of past allegations to overcome a "crisis of trust." Topping the list was ISL, which could yet define Blatter's presidential era. Fifa "could help to end, or at least accelerate," the release of court documents, the report said.
Although commercial bribery was not a crime in Switzerland during ISL's time, six agency staff stood trial in 2008 for financial misdeeds and the Paraguayan Leoz was named in court.
Two senior football officials repaid kickbacks worth 5.5 million Swiss francs (£5m) last year but Fifa has blocked a court in Zug from identifying them although the BBC has reported that the documents name Havelange and his former son-in-law Teixeira.
Africa's football president Hayatou, of Cameroon, also was identified as taking ISL payments, which he said were for his confederation. Havelange and Hayatou, both IOC members, are being investigated by the Olympic body's ethics commission using BBC evidence.
Schenk's team wants Fifa to improve democracy by including all football's stakeholders – clubs, leagues, players, match officials, fans, sponsors and media – in making decisions.
TI believes Fifa should modernise how it investigates wrongdoing, with a revamped ethics committee given independence to launch and prosecute cases.
Financial transparency should include clearer annual reports that detail salaries and bonuses, which should be set by an independent panel, the reform report said.
Fifa also should open big decisions on awarding World Cup hosting rights and broadcast deals to more external scrutiny, TI suggested. Yet Blatter's mandate in June included a request from his members, who saw their Fifa funding increase on his 13-year watch, to find solutions within the family.
The willingness of 75-year-old Blatter to reshape the organisation he has served for almost half his life, and his own legacy, will be tested tomorrow.