The Byzantine shambles that is the governing body of the world's most popular sport plumbed new depths of absurdity yesterday.
The president of Fifa, Sepp Blatter, cried off attending last night’s European Champions League Final so he could prepare his defence ahead of today’s hearing of the ‘ethics committee into bribery allegations. A vice-president of the organisation, also accused of corruption, made extraordinary claims in a newspaper interview published Saturday. And a third member of the executive committee who will face bribery claims is Mohamed bin Hammam, the man who Mr Blatter’s only rival in Wednesday’s election for the Fifa presidency until, in the early hours of today, he dramatically pulled out of the contest.
In a statement on his website, bin Hammam says "recent events have left me hurt and disappointed - on a professional and personal level." He added: "It is for this reason that I announce my withdrawal from the presidential election." Before this announcement there had been considerable clamour for a postponement of the election. Where Fifa is left now, with the only candidate the contentious incumbent, Mr Blatter, is now anyone’s guess.
The seemingly relentless efforts of the game’s officials to bring football into disrepute have now prompted an international alliance of politicians led by British MPs to formulate a manifesto for cleaning up Fifa. The newly formed International Partnership for the Reform of Fifa will demand a root-and-branch transformation of the organisation. Their blueprint would snatch responsibility for huge decisions – particularly on World Cup venues – away from the 24 executive committee members and open them up to all 208 Fifa member nations.
Ballots that are presently held under strict secrecy would also be held in public, and senior executives would be forced to lay bare all their financial and other interests in line with the rules governing the conduct of British MPs.
While such moves gather pace, Fifa tackles its own internecine business today in Zurich, where its ethics committee will hear the case against Mohamed bin Hammam of Qatar (which controversially won the right to stage the 2022 World Cup); vice-president Jack Warner, of the American and
Caribbean Football Federation; Debbie Minguell and Jason Sylvester, of the Caribbean Football Union (CFU); and Mr Blatter.
At the centre of the hearing will be a dossier presented to them by Fifa executive committee member Chuck Blazer of the US. This – reportedly backed by affidavits, documents and even photographs – says that Mr Bin Hammam, in the course of campaigning for the presidency, offered large cash bribes to possibly as many as 25 CFU members at a meeting in Trinidad on 10-11 May.
He denies this, but admits he paid for attendees’ travel and accommodation for the meeting, at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, Port of Spain. Mr Warner is accused of facilitating the alleged bribes. After these claims were made, and the hearing set, Mr Bin Hammam claimed that Mr Blatter knew in advance of the alleged cash inducements, and so this matter was added to today’s crowded agenda.
What was always going to be an acrimonious hearing was given further spice yesterday by words used by Mr Warner in an interview with the Trinidad Express newspaper. He said: “You will see a football tsunami that will hit Fifa and the world that will shock you.” He added that he was “not guilty of a single iota of wrongdoing”. He will fight his corner in Zurich today, at a hearing which could well leave one of the two presidential election candidates suspended, and the other winning by default. If there is a poll, representatives of all 208 Fifa nations will vote.
Such is the tawdry state of Fifa that a considerable groundswell is growing among politicians for the body’s wholsesale reform. The International Partnership for the Reform of Fifa has been convened by the Conservative MP Damian Collins, who has gathered politicians from a range of countries including Germany, Australia and the US to support his call for change.
Mr Collins did not rule out urging Fifa members, including the home nations, to quit the organisation and establish a new international football body. But he claimed the priority was to reform Fifa from within, beginning with an assault on the culture of secrecy that he believes has allowed corruption to flourish.
“We need much greater transparency in decision-making,” the Folkestone and Hythe MP said. “People have to vote on the record. On big things, all countries in Fifa would have the opportunity to vote. The members of the executive committee should accept the same rules of disclosure that other people in public life around the world have to sign up to. Their financial and other interests must be transparent.”
Mr Collins said the partnership hoped to publish its full demands early this week. David Cameron and the sports minister, Hugh Robertson, have backed postponing any elections while the corruption allegations are fully investigated.