KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- The fragile credibility of the Independent Ethics Chamber of world football federation FIFA will stand or fall for ever by its response to the announcement of a Swiss criminal investigation into president Sepp Blatter.
Largely, the ethics set-up – as strengthened by the initial FIFA reforms steered by governance expert Mark Pieth – has been granted cautious, conditional approval by the outside world.
But the rules of hyper-confidentiality and the legal cultures car crash between German judge Hans-Joachim Eckert and American former prosecutor Michael Garcia mean it remains on probation in the court of public opinion.
A failure to react to the very public launch of state legal proceedings against Blatter would render the ethics chamber a laughing stock. FIFA, one day far into the future, might recover; the ethics chamber never could.
Any half-honourable leader of an organisation assailed by so much corruption at such a high level would have accepted responsibility for events on his watch and resigned long ago.
Maybe not in a banana republic. But Switzerland is not held to be such.
Only the day before Blatter’s office was invaded by the Attorney-General’s men he was set an instructive example from neighbouring Germany (Eckert’s homeland): Martin Winterkorn, while denying all knowledge of the emissions cheating software in Volkswagen’s diesel cars, accepted ultimate responsibility as ceo and resigned.
Blatter should, at the least, step aside while investigations run their course. He was, after all, due to quit the FIFA presidency next year.
Or was he? Perhaps, all along, he has always intended to employ one artifice or another to stay on beyond February 26. Hence the need to cling on in the face of the public ridicule heaped on not only his head but on the organisation which appears powerless (or, maybe worse, unwilling) to remove him.
Hence ethics investigator Cornel Borbely or, since he is also Swiss like Blatter, deputy Djimrabaye Bourngar of Chad, and Eckert should waste no time in suspending Blatter from office.
In so doing they would be protecting, indeed enhancing, the credibility of the ethics chamber and remaining true to the wider professional responsibilities within the justice systems they are sworn to uphold in their separate countries.
Comparisons have been raised about the decision that Jerome Valcke should have been ‘relieved of his duties’ as secretary-general pending the outcome of an ethics investigation into his alleged involvement in a ticketing scam (which he denies).
To be clear: Valcke was not suspended by the ethics committee. He was suspended by Blatter, with the approval of the emergency committee (the heads of the six regional confederations including UEFA’s Michel Platini), from his status an employee of FIFA. The Ethics Chamber was not enjoined to make a ruling.
The Blatter issue is very different.
Valcke was the subject of so-far unsubstantiated allegations by a private individual concerning an internal administrative issue (World Cup ticketing controls); Blatter, on the other hand, is under criminal investigation by the Swiss Attorney-General, an immeasurably more serious state of affairs.
If Blatter judged it correct to suspend Valcke then, by his own standards (whatever they may be) how much more correct for him now to be suspended from his own duties.
The status of Platini also merits inquiry by the ethics chamber (and possibly also suspension pending its outcome). He is not under criminal investigation but was named by the Office of the Attorney-General as having a received a ‘disloyal payment’ of 2m SwFr a remarkable nine years after it was apparently due. This cannot be ignored; nor can the Ethics Chamber afford to be seen to be sidestepping the obvious questions raised.
In Zurich the suggestion was floated that Blatter would risk suspension only if charged.
But the ethics committee moved fast – within a matter of hours – to suspend the ‘Zurich Seven’ when they were detained by Swiss police last May 27. They were not charged, merely held pending an extradition application from the United States Department of Justice.
Jeffrey Webb, who accepted extradition, was formally charged with all manner of fraud and corruption only when he finally appeared in court in New York. He denied all charges but remains under suspension from all football activities, as decreed originally by the FIFA independent ethics committee.
The ethics chamber – effectively Borbely and/or Bourngar plus Eckert – has opened an investigation into Blatter and Platini. Beyond that now it has the opportunity to do the right thing by FIFA, by football, by its leaders’ own professional status. Also by the country in which FIFA is headquartered: Swiss Federation or Banana Republic?
At the very least, for the good of the game.