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Blatter anti-corruption plan may be 'red herring'

Fifa headquarters in Zurich
Sepp Blatter has been working at Fifa since 1975

By John Sinnott

Sepp Blatter's plan to set up an anti-corruption committee to police Fifa has been given a lukewarm reception and the world governing body's president could face pressure from powerful national associations and the grassroots as he seeks re-election.

Campaigning for a fourth four-year term as Fifa president, Blatter said on Sunday: "I will take care of it personally, to ensure there is no corruption in Fifa."

His move comes after the bidding and votes for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups were dogged by corruption allegations.

But lawyer Sylvia Schenk warned the new Fifa plan could be a "red herring".

Senior advisor for sport at anti-corruption organisation Transparency International, Schenk also asked why Fifa needed a new commission when it already has an ethics committee.

Asian Football Confederation president Mohamed Bin Hammam is also unhappy about the way Blatter failed to discuss the anti-corruption plan with Fifa's executive committee.

Blatter is in Qatar for the 46-nation Asian Football Confederation meeting, the first of six continental confederations' congresses he will attend ahead of Fifa's own annual gathering of 208 nations later this year, which will determine whether he will be re-elected.

At the weekend the Fifa president told Swiss newspaper SonntagsZeitung the new anti-corruption committee would consist of seven to nine members "not only from sport but from politics, finance, business and culture".

The Swiss has confirmed he would not sit on the committee himself as he wanted to guarantee its independence.

"Blatter's New Year's resolution to form an anti-corruption committee within the organisation could be a good response," wrote Schenk in a blog on Tuesday.

"But it could just as easily be a red herring, aimed at winning time for the storm clouds over Fifa to blow over, in the hope that people will forget about Fifa's problems."

American lawyer David Larkin added: "Allegations of corruption have haunted Fifa and various members of its leadership for more than 10 years.

"In those 10 years, the most damaging thing to Fifa's credibility has not been the allegations, but Fifa's abysmal response to them.

"Fifa needs more than just a 'new image' - it needs meaningful reform and genuine transparency at all levels.

"An objective third party, outside the sphere of Fifa influence, is the proper party to lead such an effort, it is not Mr Blatter.

"The involvement of Mr Blatter or Fifa in such an effort, in any manner, would be akin to having the proverbial fox watching the hen house."

During the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding process in 2010, Fifa suspended executive committee members Amos Adamu and Reynald Temarii over allegations they offered to sell their votes, something the pair vehemently denied.

They both subsequently missed December's ballot in which Russia was chosen to host the 2018 tournament and Qatar the 2022 finals, following a secret vote by the remaining 22 committee members.

A BBC Panorama programme broadcast on 29 November - three days before the World Cup vote in Zurich - alleged three Fifa officials, Nicolas Leoz, Issa Hayatou and Ricardo Teixeira, took bribes in the 1990s.

Denying any wrongdoing, vice-president Hayatou has threatened to sue while Leoz and Teixeira are said to have also denied wrongdoing.

And as Blatter begins his bid for re-election the Fifa president is also facing grassroots criticism.

Launched before the December World Cup vote was held, the Change Fifa campaign wants a "democratic, transparent and open Fifa" that "returns the game to the people".

It has floated two options - form a new world governing body for football or reform Fifa, which "would require a combination of intense legal and political pressure alongside the current forces of mass public desire for change".

Fifa president Sepp Blatter
The average Fifa employee salary is 113,000

The campaigning group, which has been backed by former England manager Graham Taylor, was set up by businessman Oliver Fowler, who is based in Barcelona and is organising a live debate later this year in the Spanish city on the future of world football governance.

"There is a need for that organisation [Fifa] to be more open and democratic than it is," Taylor told BBC Sport.

"Some decisions have to be taken in privacy, but not the World Cup vote."

England gained only two out of 22 votes from the world governing body's executive committee as Russia was handed the 2018 World Cup, while Australia fared even worse, garnering one solitary vote as Qatar was chosen to host the 2022 event.

Investigative reporter Andrew Jennings, who worked on the Panorama programme, believes the only way Fifa will be reformed is from a "bottom up" rather than a "top down" approach.

"I think the only answer is grassroots pressure up the feeding chain from the counties to the national associations and onwards to the Fifa Congress," Jennings stated. "A lot of fans are contacting me, wanting to get this off the ground."

Taylor was given a glimpse of Fifa's workings in the early 1990s when he sat on its technical committee, a body that had no power to make decisions and could only make recommendations.

However, the organisation's lavish five-star lifestyle and the way some members were prepared to exploit expenses left Taylor feeling profoundly uncomfortable.

His flight to Switzerland was paid for by the Football Association and he was then put up by Fifa in a five-star hotel with members treated to a series of five-star meals at lunch and in the evening over three days.

Holloway rants over 'crazy' Fifa plan

Taylor was eligible to claim daily expenses of 250 swiss francs, but was approached by one Fifa member who urged him to claim his flight expenses, even though the Football Association had already paid for this.

"'We all do this,' the member told me," Taylor recalled.

"He said: 'Open an account in Switzerland and get your association to pay for your flight and then claim from Fifa. You can claim for the flight and you can continue doing it.

"He was saying to me: 'Join the club'. But it was wrong and I didn't want to do it."

Taylor added: "I didn't like the feel of it at all and I was very uncomfortable with the way that committee was run. You just have a feeling that agreements are made behind closed doors. Can you really trust these people?"

Those experiences ensured Taylor was not shocked when England did so badly in the December World Cup vote.

"What surprised me was how surprised we were that we didn't win the vote," Taylor commented.

"When Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said he wasn't going to go to Zurich ahead of the vote I knew they had won it. I turned to my wife and said 'if he felt he had to be there to win he would have been in Zurich.'"

Like a number of managers in the Premier League, Taylor is also baffled by Fifa now floating the idea to hold the 2022 World Cup in January.

"Committee members should have known about that before the vote. This thing hasn't been done fairly," Taylor continued. "The votes were known and nobody can convince me it was an open and democratic process.

"You have to consider the supporters all over the world. Football is the heart and soul of this country. Having staged the event in 1966 it might be 2030 - that is 64 years - before it comes to England again."

Larkin has gone even further arguing that there is a legal argument for the 2022 World Cup decision to be rescinded if it is switched to January.

Khalifa Stadium in Doha
The Khalifa stadium will be expanded for use during the 2022 World Cup

"Such a move would apparently be an ex post facto and material change to the Qatar bid that was voted upon by the Fifa executive committee," Larkin said.

"If the voting members of the executive committee were not made aware of all of material conditions of the Qatar bid, I would argue that the 2022 World Cup vote is null and void.

"I've found no reports, from Fifa or anywhere else, prior to the December 2010 World Cup vote that raises the possibility that a winning 2022 Qatar bid might be held in January."

However, former Fifa lawyer Paolo Lombardi cautioned that any reform campaign would have its work cut out to bring out a change in the way Fifa is run.

"The most common mistake is to consider Fifa as some autocratic entity in its ivory tower up there on some hill in Zurich," Lombardi stated.

"Fifa is the international federation of football associations and would not exist without its member associations.

"Any reform must be approved by majority among the 208 associations, who have one vote each. No new football rule or amendment to Fifa's structure can be approved without the agreement of the associations.

"More often than not, major amendments have been approved following the proposal of a single association or a group of them.

"Any reform whatsoever must therefore come from the associations members of Fifa."

British lawyer Guy Thomas suggested that an alternative solution to deal with the corruption allegations that have dogged Fifa might be to bring in an external investigator.

"While I agree that institutional change to Fifa is only likely to come from within via the votes of national associations, the pressure to change can be maintained by 'outsiders'," Thomas reflected.

"To achieve this, campaigners need to widen their approach to as many national associations as possible.

"When will international football face a thorough investigation by an investigating magistrate or prosecutor? Where is Football's Baltasar Garzon?"

Spanish judge Garzon won international fame for his attempt in 1998 to extradite former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet for human rights abuses.

Schenk's blog also called on Fifa to bring about reform with its national football associations.

Schenk wrote: "The real challenge will be implementing the idea of anti-corruption within national federations.

"This will involve changing the culture within the football 'family', as Blatter likes to call it, to that of a modern, transparent and accountable administration on a global as well as on the national level."

On Wednesday, Bayern Munich president Uli Hoeness called on Europe's strongest football associations to press for reforms at Fifa.

"I think [Fifa president] Mr [Joseph] Blatter and the others responsible have to begin asking themselves whether it can carry on like this," Hoeness said.

"It's time for the strong federations from Germany, England, Spain or France to start to clean things up," Hoeness told German magazine Sport Bild.

"A change can only take place when the big federations say they've had enough."

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see also
Holloway opposes winter World Cup
17 Dec 10 |  Football
Blatter expects January World Cup
07 Jan 11 |  Football
Blatter brands England bad losers
08 Dec 10 |  Football
Fifa to keep Cup voting process
06 Dec 10 |  Football
Anson floats Fifa reform proposal
04 Dec 10 |  Football
Russia & Qatar to host World Cups
02 Dec 10 |  Football
Fifa plans anti-corruption team
02 Jan 11 |  Football
Panorama won't hurt 2018 bid - PM
26 Nov 10 |  Football


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