ZURICH: At the request of the chairpersons of the Ethics Committee, and in consultation with the members of the Ethics Committee, an in-depth revision of the Code of Ethics issued in 2012 took place over the last year. The revised version was approved by the FIFA Counciland came into force on 12 August 2018, and includes landmark changes to the existing model to ensure more transparency, legal security and the most efficient procedure. This includes the introduction of minimum sanctions for each infringement, fundamental changes to the appeal procedure and various other important amendments.
An article published by the Associated Press concerning the new code includes several inaccurate statements, despite the fact that comprehensive background information was provided to the journalist:
- As explained to Associated Press, the title of the article “Bribery and corruption” was changed to “Bribery” for reasons of language clarity in the English, Spanish and German versions (there is no change in the French version, where the article in question was previously called “Corruption” and is still called “Corruption” today). This change in the title of the article has no material impact on the actual infringements that are pursued (as can be seen by comparing article 21 of the 2012 edition with article 27 in the 2018 edition). The same conduct that was punishable under the previous code is still punishable today under the new one. Moreover, and for the sake of clarity and comprehension, the new code is actually more stringent regarding bribery, by dint of having minimum sanctions to punish any instance of bribery, which did not exist under the previous code. Thus, any bribery offence will be sanctioned with a minimum ban from all football-related activity of five years, as well as a minimum fine of CHF 100,000.
- In general, the new code has introduced additional rules prohibiting unethical conduct by officials. Here, the previous articles relating to rules of conduct were kept and/or clarified and additional infringements added. For instance, an additional article on match manipulation was added to provide the Ethics Committee with better tools to fight the global threat to football that is match-fixing. The same applies to defamation (the act of communicating false information that harms the reputation of an individual or a group). The Ethics Committee considered that such a prohibition, which exists in most legal systems and which was not contained in the previous code, needed to be included in the Code of Ethics. The world of football is not immune to conduct that aims to tarnish the reputations of others, and such conduct, like any other unethical conduct mentioned in the Code of Ethics, must be sanctioned accordingly. The article concerning defamation is not only there to protect FIFA, but also to protect any other person covered by the code who may be subjected to discriminatory or defamatory statements in the context of FIFA events.
- The 2012 edition of the Code already included time limit rules for the prosecution of specific infringements. Although the new code has introduced new time limits for certain serious infringements, the Ethics Committee believes that ten years (or 15 years if an investigation is open) is a sufficient period of time in which to complete the investigation in cases of serious infringements. This change will bring more legal certainty to the world of football by ensuring that potential infringements to the code are dealt with in a swift manner.
- The statute of limitations is a general principle of law that is applied in civil law and common law systems, as well as in civil and criminal matters. Assuming that an infringement can be prosecuted, it should be pursued with reasonable diligence. If too many years have passed after the facts have occurred, an investigator and/or a defendant might have lost evidence necessary to prove or disprove the claim.
In addition, the new code introduces a series of important amendments that will reinforce the work of the Ethics Committee and help FIFA safeguard the integrity and reputation of football worldwide. This includes, for instance, and as mentioned above, a clear and strong message against any form of match manipulation, which will now be sanctioned with a minimum suspension of five years as well as a minimum fine of CHF 100,000. It also includes the introduction of the plea bargain procedure, which will enable a faster handling of matters. In order to ensure that this procedure respects the individuals’ due process rights, the plea bargain agreement will need to be approved by both chairpersons of the Ethics Committee, and will not apply to the most serious offences under the Code of Ethics (bribery, match manipulation, etc.).
The revision was initiated with the intention of guaranteeing greater opportunities for transparency and understanding of the respective proceedings. The goal of the new leadership of the Ethics Committee was also to clarify some articles and definitions and to be more specific with respect to the conduct that is expected from persons bound by the code. The structure of the code has been revised in order to clarify the separation between the different steps of the proceedings. Similarly, the various infringements of the code have been reordered in order to better reflect the seriousness of each breach of the code.
Finally, a circular was sent to all FIFA member associations on 27 July 2018, summarising the various steps of the revision process, as well as the main changes included in the code. This circular is publicly available here on FIFA.com.