KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTS: Damaging new allegations against the manner in which Sepp Blatter commands FIFA as president have erupted over the stalled reform process.
In 2011 Blatter, to head off criticism after a string of scandals, commissioned Swiss management expert Mark Pieth to head up a governance reform programme. Pieth wound up his work last year, frustrated at having pushed through only a handful of his proposals.
Now the German magazine Der Spiegel has reported that criticism of Blatter in Pieth’s final report was watered down by the world football federation’s legal adviser, Marco Villiger.
The claims will further fuel European opposition to Blatter in the forthcoming FIFA presidential election. He remains overwhelming favourite to win a fifth term despite a promise, in 2011, to step down. Opposing himn are Dutchman Michael Van Praag, Portugal’s Luis Figo and FIFA’s Asian vice-president, Prince Ali of Jordan.
Villiger has featured previously over controversial legal issues. Itr was on his advice, last autumn, that Blatter’s executive committee decided not to publish the controversial Garcia Report into the 2018-2022 World Cup awards scandal.
The subsequent storm prompted a retreat to the offer of a heavily-redacted version at some stage in the distant future.
The Der Spiegel allegations this weekend claim that passages in Pieth’s final report were amended to remove comments about Blatter’s “leadership responsibilities [as general secretary] during the ISL affair” as well as his “possible complicity in the scandal.”
Pieth had submitted a preliminary 15-page draft of his report on February 27, 2014, and Villiger had sent it back on March 13 with 37 notes and various deletions.
Pieth, in response to an inquiry from Spiegel, agreed that he was aware of the changes.
FIFA, according to the magazine, insisted there had been no question of any “unfair influence” having been exerted, that only five of the 37 ‘notes’ had been acted on by Pieth and that Villiger was only one of a number of officials involved in reviewing the draft.
ISL, FIFA’s long-term commercial partner, went bankrupt in 2001 with debts of around 142m Swiss francs. It later emerged that it had paid out millions in secret commissions to senior sports administrations including the then FIFA president Joao Havelange and his exco member son, Ricardo Teixeira. Blatter was general secretary then chief executive through the ISL years, becoming president in 1998.
Blatter, meanwhile, was involved in another squabble over media coverage as he attend the closing days of the African Nations Cup in Equatorial Guinea.
Media in line of fire
Both Blatter and African confederation Issa Hayatou complained about sensationalist European media coverage of incidents at the semi-final in Malabo between Ghana and hosts Equatorial Guinea.
The match was halted on 82 minutes after Ghana fans massed behind one goal as they tried to evade missiles being thrown at them by home supporters. Police moved in to tried to restore order, using batons and firing tear gas, and a police helicopter hovered over the stadium.
After a delay of more than 30 minutes the match resumed for three minutes and Ghana completed a 3-0 win.
Equatorial Guinea’s federation was subsequently fined $100,000 by CAF but Blatter and Hayatou appeared to be suggesting that the media should have turned a blind eye to the violence.
Blatter, complaining about a perpetually negative general news agenda, said: “Good news is no news, bad news is always news. Sometimes it seems we are talking only about the bad things in football – let it live, leave it in peace, it’s well organised..
“I don’t see the negative side of African football that the media presents. It’s normal, we criticise what’s good, never what’s bad . . . The media can play a role, must play a role, but they must play a role where the notions of respect and fair play are the basics.
“Today, the world opens the newspapers, watches television, and sees only murders and killing. We never talk about princesses marrying any more.”
Hayatou accused the western media of over-dramatisation where African was concerned. He said: “If something bad happened in Europe, it is a mistake; if it happens in Africa, they talk about corruption.”
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