Fifa corruption: The ‘famously tolerant' Swiss hosts who have finally started to ask questions

The Swiss have long been admired, and criticised, for their ability to turn a blind eye - that may end soon

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Over the decades, the platitudes at the bottom of Fifa’s headed notepaper have been tweaked to fit the prevailing banalities of the era. But the one thing that has remained constant since the 1930s is the address at the top: Zurich.

Currently, the world’s most beleaguered organisation will tell you it exists “For the Game. For The World. For Peace.” But don’t doubt the number one priority of any organisation that chooses to base itself in Europe’s alpine heart of blandness: cash.

Fifa’s own official history informs the world that its decision to relocate from Antwerp eighty years ago was motivated by the desire for “political and economic stability.”

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People sunbathe beside the river Limmat

The Swiss are famously tolerant hosts. Come for the chocolate and the molten cheese, stay for the tax breaks and the big blind eye. Even as European civilisation crumbled and burned at their borders, their offer of “political and economic stability” remained, sustained in no small part by the swastika-marked bullion packing out the vaults at the national bank.

Sixty of sport’s governing bodies are based here, including what remains the mother of them all, the International Olympic Committee. Various UN agencies are here too, drawn by neutrality.

Federations, institutes and NGOs aside, Switzerland is the land of the banks. An entire nation built on the back of favourable privacy and tax policies.

It is one of Fifa’s genuinely remarkable achievements that the turbulence it has generated appears to have done the impossible, in disrupting the stability of its peerlessly placid home. Sepp Blatter likes a nautical metaphor: his boat has rocked the ocean.

Fifa has been at pains to point out that it was it which called in the Swiss police, that it was at the organisation’s behest that its top executives were dragged from their five-star hotel beds at six in the morning and three days later are still in custody. (Jean-Jacques Rousseau was from here, by the way. Fifa was born free, yet it is everywhere in chains.)

But calling in the Swiss police has long been among Mr Blatter’s favourite delaying tactics. In November, when he handed them the Garcia Report, a powerless investigation paid for by Fifa into its own corruption, it was widely seen as yet another way of kicking its publication into the long grass. Seven months later, it has still not been published.

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Fifa president Sepp Blatter

When Judge Hans Joachim Eckert, the head of Fifa’s Ethics Committee, found himself trapped in a bottleneck on the red carpet right in front of the Sky News camera and asked when it might finally be made public, he could only reply “when it’s ready”. No one imagined, back then, that its long route to the printers would lead through the lobby of the Baur Au Lac hotel at dawn.

Possibly it’s the fondue, but it takes a lot to get the Swiss exercised. The young tend to leave, and return at an age where their disposition has realigned itself with the prevailing mood of their home. This is a nation known for Dignitas, not discos.

Until now, local opinion on Fifa has fluctuated between mild pride at hosting such a high-profile organisation with a Swiss head, and total indifference.

That has changed.  Dawn raids is not the done thing here. It is telling that the most damning thing Michel Platini could find to tell his old friend Sepp Blatter, as he begged him in private on Thursday morning, to leave Fifa, was that “even your own press has turned against you”.

When it was revealed in March that a global megalith like HSBC had been choosing its Swiss Private Bank to assist with international tax evasion for a long list of shadowy individuals, the news was met here with little more than a shrug of the shoulders.

On Friday, Blick, the leading Swiss tabloid, wrote in its editorial: “Scumbags and corrupt officials come to Zurich. Blatter didn’t seek out these people. But under his leadership, a feudal system with terrible tentacles continued to fester.”

If those dawn raids by Swiss men in trainers acting on behalf of the US Department of Justice mark a new chapter of cooperation between the IRS’s tax investigators and the Swiss police, then the consequences are potentially profound.

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