KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY —- FIFA, in what may only be described as a breathtaking act of silly-season PR lunacy, has removed the word ‘corruption’ from its updated code of ethics.
To be clear, ‘corruption’ is a generalised catch-all term covering a vast spectrum of wrongdoing from localised matchfixing to international criminal fraud. Anyone suspected of a governance, civil or criminal offence must have the particular charges specified as in the language of the FIFAGate indictments, for example.
Also, the C-word featured only twice in the previous text – once in a heading and once in a note concerning time limitation.
However, by removing the term altogether from the new ethics rules and regulations – along with the introduction of a whistleblower-threatening offence of ‘defamation’ – the world football federation has scored yet another massive own goal in its sclerotic attempt at an image revision.
If president Gianni Infantino wants evidence then he need only launch an online search of ‘FIFA’ and ‘corruption.’ Big headlines around the world.
Plus ça change
Fiddling with the ethics rules is nothing new. When FIFA launched a new ethics commission back in 2006 the then-president Sepp Blatter was careful to ensure it had no power of retrospective action.
Hence powerful Trinidadian Jack Warner, then vote-controlling head of the Caribbean, central and north American confederation, escaped punishment over his World Cup ticketing manoeuvres.
Again, once Infantino had his feet under the FIFA table in the spring of 2016 he wasted no time turfing out the men who had nailed Blatter and the former UEFA president Michel Platini plus various long-serving members of the scandal-scarred executive committee.
Later he removed respected Portuguese judge Miguel Maduro who had barred the continuance within FIFA of Russia’s Vitaly Mutko.
The latest chapter in FIFA’s ethics saga can be seen in the updated code of ethics as approved by the FIFA Council – not the full congress – in Moscow in June. The English version runs to 58 pages with 88 sections and a word search for “corruption” returns a zero.
The ‘preamble’ asserts:
FIFA bears a special responsibility to safeguard the integrity and reputation of football worldwide. FIFA is constantly striving to protect the image of football, and especially that of FIFA, from jeopardy or harm as a result of illegal, immoral or unethical methods and practices.
Long-sceptical critics of FIFA have wasted no time pointing out that removing ‘corruption’ from the English version of the document (it remains in French) runs contrary to the stated will “to protect the image of football, and especially that of FIFA.”
Anyone who may quibble about drawing conclusions from the English version can be disabused simply by reference to the FIFA statutes which state that “if there is any divergence in the wording, the English text shall be authoritative.”
In fact, the only reference in the previous code of ethics was article 21: “Bribery and corruption.” The word “corruption” did not feature in the related text.
Its second former reference was in Section 12 which noted:
1. As a general rule, breaches of the provisions of this Code may no longer be prosecuted after a lapse of ten years.
2. Prosecution for bribery and corruption is not subject to such a limitation period.
3. The limitation period, when applicable, shall be prolonged if proceedings are opened and/or suspended.
In the new code “bribery” is now the sole title of a renumbered section 27.
As for the statute of limitations, this has been tightened, hence:
1. As a general rule, breaches of the provisions of this Code may no longer be prosecuted after a lapse of five years.
2. . Bribery, misappropriation of funds and manipulation of football matches or competitions may no longer be prosecuted after a lapse of ten years.
3. The limitation period, when applicable, shall be extended by half its length if an investigation is opened before its expiration.
4. The limitation period, when applicable, shall be suspended where criminal proceedings are formally opened against a person bound by this code during such proceedings.
5. In case of repeated breaches, the limitation period as described above shall start only after the last of the repeated breaches has ended
Thus most possible offences have a five-year limit and bribery can be wiped off the slate after 10 years. However the limitation control is null and void if the individual concerned has been subject to criminal proceedings. Whether that means in general or concerning the specific issue is not stated.
A suspicious new offence has been added to the code: defamation. This did not feature at all in the previous code. Whistleblowers and even occasional doubters should be worried. Very worried.
Now the term features, formally, within section 22: ‘Discrimination and defamation.’
The text states:
1. Persons bound by this Code shall not offend the dignity or integrity of a country, private person or group of people through contemptuous, discriminatory or denigratory words or actions on account of race, skin colour, ethnicity, nationality, social origin, gender, disability, language, religion, political opinion or any other opinion, wealth, birth or any other status, sexual orientation or any other reason.
2. Persons bound by this Code are forbidden from making any public statements of a defamatory nature towards FIFA and/or towards any other person bound by this code in the context of FIFA events.
3. Violation of this article shall be sanctioned with an appropriate fine of at least CHF 10,000 as well as a ban on taking part in any football-related activity for a maximum of two years. In serious cases and/or in the case of repetition, a ban on taking part in any football-related activity may be pronounced for a maximum of five years.
But “defamation” itself is not defined.
The eager-beaver lawyers who – being generous – may have removed “corruption” on the grounds of a lack of specificity have fallen down with a sin of omission in this case.
An Oxford English Dictionary – FIFA approves of English as the No1 interpretative text, after all – defines defamation as “the action of damaging the good reputation of someone.”
So, no problem.
FIFA, by its own officials’ frequent admissions, does not possess a “good” reputation. Hence, nothing to damage . . . especially after some minion decided that “corruption” should be removed from the text of its code of ethics.