Is Fifa an organised crime group? Meet the man who's out to prove it
His first book, published in 1989, was about a connection between Scotland Yard and narcotics syndicates. His last, published in 2006, was about the criminal dealings of Fifa. The Daily Maverick asked investigative reporter Andrew Jennings for his opinions on Sepp Blatter and the World Cup.
In 2006, British investigative journalist Andrew Jennings put together a documentary for the BBC’s hard-hitting current affairs show Panorama. In the piece, he pointed to a company called International Sports and Leisure, a firm based in the Swiss Alps that had the exclusive contract to sell manufacturers of razor blades, fizzy drinks and burgers the right to paste the Fifa World Cup logo to their products. Clearly, Jennings saw no reason to tread softly with ISL.
“For nearly twenty years none of ISL's competitors got a look in at Fifa and the company was desperate to keep it that way,” he said to the camera. “Why did Fifa give these contracts to ISL rather than to their competitors? Because ISL paid kickbacks, big kickbacks to some of the men controlling World Football.”
Panorama, it needs to be emphasised, is one of the most serious shows at one of the world’s most trusted broadcasters. The executive producers would not under any circumstances have allowed Jennings to sully its name through fabrication or hyperbole, and they’d have been all too aware of the potential legal implications involved in taking on one of the richest governing bodies in sport.
But Jennings had his facts. He’d been collecting them for four years, and they were all gathered in a book he published in 2006 entitled Foul!: The Secret World of Fifa: Bribes, Vote Rigging and Ticket Scandals. The book, together with the attendant articles and documentaries, made Jennings the first investigative sports reporter to ever successfully penetrate the sanctified domain of Fifa and lay bare the corruption that many had suspected but none had proved.
Photo: FIFA president Sepp Blatter gestures during a news conference in Zurich April 23, 2010. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann
It’s a complicated story with a range of subplots, but in essence what Jennings had argued – and, it seems, verified – was that Fifa president Sepp Blatter and his associates had managed to seize control of the world game and institute an electoral system that ensured they’d be in power forever. Jennings’s research comprised hundreds of interviews, and extended across Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas. Amongst his numerous revelations of bribery and high-level racketeering were also some incriminating tidbits on how Germany won the right to host the 2006 World Cup, and how South Africa won in 2010.
In the four years since the book and the Panorama documentary, Jennings hasn’t let up. Last week, The Daily Maverick received a mail from him that spoke of (another) threat of a legal suit by Fifa should he continue his public campaigning. What Fifa’s lawyers wanted this time, it seemed, was for him not to present a paper on fraud and corruption regarding the sports body at a conference in Miami.
“I was a bit surprised, the lawyer [that brought the action] gets a full chapter in my book Foul,” Jennings told us over the phone. The source of his surprise? The fact that freedom of expression is strongly entrenched in the United States, and that, as far as he’s concerned, his enemies don’t have a hope.
He’s determined that Blatter won’t stop him. “I’m developing an analysis that Fifa is an organised crime group. They tick all the boxes. They cannot go into court.”
Jennings of all people would know about organised crime. His first book, published in 1989, was titled Scotland Yard’s Cocaine Connection. A few years later he was one of the first Western journalists to investigate mafia activity in the Caucasus. What, then, is it about Fifa that specifically puts them into this category?
“First, they’re operating for profit in a criminal manner. We know what thievery looks like, and one can point to a number of criminal acts. Second, protection. Historically, by any definition, that’s when you’ve got money going into the criminal justice system.”
Jennings cut the conversation with The Daily Maverick short – he needed to catch his flight to Florida, he said – but he promised to talk at greater length in the weeks ahead. Asked a final question about the prospects of success for World Cup 2010, he offered this:
“I was very fortunate to be shown around a township outside Cape Town recently. I was taken to one with a population of 500,000. I was shown these appalling football stadiums. The barefoot kids in that township, the ones playing soccer on a busy and dangerous street, will not get anything out of the World Cup. For Blatter to crap on about South African development I find quite obscene, actually.”
By Kevin Bloom
Read more: Andrew Jennings’s website, Transparency in Sport; Transcript of Panorama show, The Beautiful Bung: Corruption and the World Cup.You can also read Institute of Security Studies' Player and Referee, Conflicting Interests and the 2010 Fifa World Cup.
Photo: British author Andrew Jennings testifies before the Senate Committee on Commerce about corruption inside the International Olympic Committee, on Capitol Hill April 14, 1999.