The surprise is that it took Michael Garcia so long to walk. The resignation of the New York lawyer from his role as independent chairman of the investigatory chamber of the Fifa ethics committee was the only sane option after his report into the World Cup bids for 2018 and 2022 was coated in whitewash by an organisation beyond parody.
You would hope that his move might wound the medieval fiefdom in Switzerland that runs world football, particularly the titular head, president Sepp Blatter, who brazenly expressed surprise at the developments.
Fifa has hitherto proved beyond the jurisdiction of any. It is accountable to none. Blatter may be able to ride out this storm, too. Or maybe not. Garcia’s resignation will certainly be of interest to the FBI, which has spent three years compiling evidence against high-ranking Fifa officials in its own probe into the World Cup bidding process, allegedly working alongside former Fifa representatives.
Garcia was obliged not to make his report public. Now that he is outside the organisation, the option to leak its contents is obvious. It might be that Fifa steals his thunder by publishing it themselves; after all, Garcia had no powers to seize emails and phone messages in compiling the document. A decision on that will be taken by the audit committee during the Fifa meeting in Marrakech.
It is not so much the content of Garcia’s report that threatens Blatter and Fifa but the corrupting of its findings, demonstrating another rank breach of trust. Garcia held on for the sake of appearances until his appeal against the summary verdict on his findings by Hans-Joachim Eckert, chairman of something called the adjudicatory chamber, was thrown out on Tuesday.
The condensed, 42-page conclusion produced by Eckert, a high-ranking Fifa official, was, according to Garcia, a fantasy that contained “numerous materially incomplete and erroneous representations of facts and conclusions”.
It says it all that a Fifa-appointed figure should need to appeal against the body that initiated his inquiry. Indeed, after voicing his concerns about Fifa’s handling of his report, which identified “serious and wide-ranging issues with the bidding and selection process”, Garcia was himself in the dock, referred to the Fifa disciplinary committee for violating the body’s code of ethics.
The comic nature of events took another twist this week when Eckert’s statement on Garcia’s report, described by Eckert himself as his “findings, including certain descriptions of the contents of the investigatory chamber’s report”, lost its official status and was downgraded to opinion. This blatant act of chicanery rendered Garcia’s appeal against Eckert’s findings meaningless.
“A brief I filed with the Fifa appeal committee outlined the Eckert decision’s most serious failings. Among other points, the brief explained why, when viewed in the context of the report it purported to summarise, no principled approach could justify the Eckert decision’s edits, omissions, and additions,” Garcia said.
“Yesterday’s decision by the appeal committee declined to address these points. Instead, the appeal committee rejected my appeal on procedural grounds, concluding that ‘it is not necessary for the Fifa appeal committee to enter into considerations on the substance of the appeal’. The appeal committee found that the Eckert decision was ‘merely a personal opinion on the report’ and had ‘no legally binding effect whatsoever’.”
The appeal process having been exhausted by the committee’s absurd decree, Garcia was left with no alternative but to resign. He walked with a broadside that would shred the credibility of any conventional organisation.
“While the appeal committee’s decision notes that further appeal may be taken to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, I have concluded that such a course of action would not be practicable in this case. No independent governance committee, investigator, or arbitration panel can change the culture of an organisation. And while the Eckert decision made me lose confidence in the independence of the adjudicatory chamber, it is the lack of leadership on these issues within Fifa that leads me to conclude that my role in this process is at an end.”
Garcia’s resignation statement: The key quotes
* “I issued a public statement calling on the Fifa executive committee to authorise the appropriate publication of the report. The executive committee took no action on this subject during its September 2014 meetings – other than to refer me to the Fifa disciplinary committee for allegedly violating the code of ethics through my public comments.”
* “The issues raised by Mr Eckert’s selection and omission of material from the report, and his additional comments, went far beyond the initial transparency concerns. As my public statement at the time explained, the Eckert decision contained ‘numerous materially incomplete and erroneous representations of facts and conclusions’. Accordingly, I appealed.”
* “No independent governance committee, investigator, or arbitration panel can change the culture of an organisation. And while the 13 November 2014 Eckert decision made me lose confidence in the independence of the adjudicatory chamber, it is the lack of leadership on these issues within Fifa that leads me to conclude that my role in this process is at an end. Accordingly, effective today, 17 December 2014, I am resigning as independent chairman of the investigatory chamber of the Fifa ethics committee.”Reuse content