“If the Americans end up laying a glove on those powerful men long alleged to have fleeced the world in the name of sport, let no one ever be sniffy about their involvement in soccerball again. They will have done the greatest service to the game since … well, since we invented it, and all that.” — Martina Hyde in the Guardian on November 5, 2014
The guilty pleas of Chuck Blazer, Jose Hawilla, Darryl and Darryan Warner certainly represent a fairly useful opening salvo but why has it taken so long? The indictment suggests criminal activity extending over 21 years. Yet in June 2002 the world’s press was reporting on serious non-compliance allegations made by a FIFA whistleblower Michel Zen Ruffinen.
Needless to say no effective enforcement action was taken and perhaps more worryingly, commercial sponsors took no steps to distance themselves until the withdrawal of Emirates last year.
An explanation for the absence of regulatory, commercial and internal compliance activity is provided by an excellent 2013 article (pdf) on FIFA by Roger Pielke, from the University of Colorado:
The review presented in this paper indicates that with only a few exceptions FIFA sits free from the formal mechanisms of accountability that are employed to hold international organizations to accountability to their own stated goals….The exceptions are FIFA’s formal accountability to Swiss law under its articles of incorporation and FIFA’s accountability to its sponsors, who benefit significantly from their relationship. However, to date neither the Swiss government nor FIFA sponsors have shown much ability or interest in shaping the governance of FIFA in a direction of reform.
FIFA demonstrated time and again that it has essentially no hierarchical, supervisory, peer or public reputational accountability, and minimal fiscal accountability. This means that efforts to reform FIFA from within or as a consequence of pressure from governments, the public, the media or watchdog organizations are unlikely to result directly in any significant change. However, media attention in particular has the potential to keep FIFA reform on the public and political agenda and in the process confer some degree of perceived benefit to politicians who decide to take up FIFA reform as a cause. The revelation of new and titillating scandals would sustain such attention; in their absence, attention is likely to wane.
The effect of the allegations revealed by the FBI’s enforcement action and the promise of further action goes beyond titillating scandal and probably surpasses Roger Plietke’s expectations. Attention is now unlikely to wane for some time. Particularly so, if exculpatory explanations are now given for otherwise inexplicable transactions.
Perhaps that refocused attention will finally provide a spur to FIFA sponsors to burnish their own credentials and for the Swiss authorities to clean out their long neglected stables.
Alistair Craig, a commercial barrister practicing in London, is a frequent contributor to the FCPA Blog.