Fifa corruption: The tricky question of when a backhander becomes a bribe

Sepp Blatter's concept of the two may be different from ours

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The Independent Online

How does Sepp Blatter square the contradictions which must exist in his mind? If he were a politician, we could easily see what is happening. Most of those people have the triad of psychological traits: psychopathy, Machiavellianism and narcissism. They just lie: think one thing, say another.

But Blatter seemed sincere, authentic even, in saying that “shame and humiliation” had been brought upon Fifa by the latest allegations of corruption. He seemed equally genuine in feeling that he could not be held responsible because: “I cannot monitor everyone all the time. If people want to do wrong they will also try to hide it.” Yes, he accepted responsibility for the “reputation and well-being” of Fifa, which he frequently refers to as his family. But he appeared to truly believe that it fell to him “to find a way forward to fix things”.

While it is possible his PR staff wrote his speech and he is just another liar, it is also possible something else is happening. All of us have different parts of ourselves. That is not to say that all of us have multiple personality disorder, just that different contexts require us to be different people. Even at home, the me that tells my son that it’s wrong to lie may feel no sense of contradiction from the me that makes “not here” signals to him when someone calls who I do not want to speak to.

With the same mechanisms, Blatter may experience himself as truly blameless. It is also conceivable that ethnocentricity clouds our understanding of him. Only recently did Switzerland make bribery of foreign officials a crime. His concept of a backhander may be different from ours.

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In many industries in this country, there are payments made which some might call bribes. In television production, for example, a commissioning fee of around 10 per cent of the total budget is paid to independent producers. Is this inducement so clearly morally distinct from a bribe?

Of course, we would say there is a world of difference. If a Fifa national representative is paid a large sum to buy their vote, it seems obvious that this is corrupt because their duty is to choose the best venue for the World Cup on its merits, not for personal gain. A TV commissioning fee is to enable the producer to survive in between commissions, not to buy favours.

But in Blatter’s mind, by juggling different parts of himself, he may be able to feel truly that he is speaking truth. Perhaps he is not corrupt and nor are many of his associates. Perhaps he justifies it all by “doing good”. Fifa revenues more than doubled during his presidency; the football infrastructure of developing nations has prospered.

The American courts may soon find out if he is like this or just another triadic leader, lying through his teeth and trying to hang on to power.

Oliver James is a chartered occupational psychologist and psychotherapist at the Bowlby Centre