The net is closing on football’s world governing body following corruption claims and bans meted out ahead of Wednesday’s presidential election, campaigners say.
The latest fiasco has seen Mohamed bin Hammam suspended and forced to step down as the only challenger to incumbent President Joseph “Sepp” Blatter. The ruling followed claim and counter-claim of corruption during the campaign.
Bin Hammam’s departure paves the way for Blatter to win a fourth consecutive term as Fifa president this week. He has vowed to clean up the game from corruption after being cleared of wrongdoing by an ethics committee panel on Sunday.
Despite accusations and counter-accusations swirling around Fifa, Blatter was upbeat in speaking to reporters on Monday evening.
He said that Fifa would not investigate allegations from the English football association of foul practice during the World Cup 2018 and 2022 bids. He also refused to postpone Wednesday’s presidential election, saying it was up to Fifa’s congress whether to vote him in or not.
“I regret what has happened in the last few days and weeks, the great damage done to the image of Fifa and the disappointment of football fans,” he said.
Fifa has been mired in corruption allegations for several years, which intensified late in 2010 as the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments were awarded to Russia and Qatar.
These got an extra twist on Monday when vice-president Jack Warner – suspended by Fifa on Sunday – released an email he had received from secretary general Jerome Valcke, claiming that Qatar had “bought” the right to host the Cup. Valcke later explained that he had not accused the Gulf state of doing anything “unethical”, but meant only that it had had a lot of money to spend on campaigning.
Already last year the growing whiff of scandal provoked a Swiss parliamentary demand for Sport Minister Ueli Maurer to investigate Fifa, that has been based in Zurich since 1932.
Fifa has until the end of this year to prove to the Swiss parliament that it is cleaning up its act. If it cannot, it faces possible sanctions of having its privileges as a sporting association removed along with generous tax breaks.
Maurer’s office is also investigating if changes to the law could bring sporting bodies into line with corporations under Swiss anti-corruption legislation. At present, sporting associations are not subject to such rigorous requirements as companies.
Roland Büchel, one parliamentarian behind demands for Fifa to reform, told swissinfo.ch that the latest twists to the saga could play into the hands of anti-corruption campaigners.
“I am not unhappy with what I am seeing because it confirms what I have always said: there is corruption in Fifa,” he said. “Fifa has shot itself in the foot.”
“Blatter said last year that Fifa was not corrupt and now he finds himself surrounded by demons.”
These include the latest shenanigans surrounding the presidential election, the banning of two football regional chiefs and four Fifa officials on charges of corruption last year, claims from Britain that votes were paid for in the 2018 and 2022 World Cup process and numerous media attacks on the integrity of Fifa.
Perhaps the biggest genie in the box is a 2008 canton Zug court ruling (and confirmed by prosecutors in 2010) that Fifa officials took kickbacks when awarding rights to now bankrupt sports marketing company ISMM-ISL.
While the offences were not crimes under Swiss law at the time, attempts to find the identity of the parties involved have been blocked by the terms of an out of court settlement reached between Zug prosecutors and Fifa.
British investigative reporter Andrew Jennings, who has written a book about Fifa activities, believes it is only a matter of time before higher Swiss courts release the details of the verdict.
“The ticking time bomb is the Zug court verdict. If that gets out then Blatter is finished,” Jennings told swissinfo.ch.
Jennings called on member football associations of Fifa and for politicians to intervene in the ongoing saga.
The accusations and evidence have been made public for a number of years and it is now time for the politicians to act to clean up football,” he told swissinfo.ch.
“Switzerland is going down the right road, but someone has to tell Fifa that if it doesn’t postpone Wednesday’s election they will intervene.”
Direct political intervention would be the tactic of last resort, according to Roland Büchel.
“The Swiss parliament can force a change to Fifa’s tax status or its privileges as a sporting association,” he told swissinfo.ch. “But this would also affect the other 60 sporting federations in Switzerland, so I hope this will not be necessary.”
“Fifa is not an untouchable entity,” he added. “It is comprised of 208 national football associations, and if they want to change things then they can. Sponsors and fans could also raise their voices to make a difference.”
Speaking on Monday, Blatter said that any problems would be dealt with “within our family”.
“If governments try to intervene in the Fifa organisation then something is wrong,” he said. “Fifa is strong enough to deal with our problems internally.”
Football’s world governing body has been dogged by allegations of corruption for many years.
Sepp Blatter’s victorious 2002 presidential election campaign was marred by claims the election was rigged.
In 2006, British journalist Andrew Jennings published a book entitled: Foul! The Secret World of FIFA: Bribes, Vote Rigging and Ticket Scandals.
The book was followed up by similar allegations in BBC Panorama documentaries.
Fifa set up an ethics committee in 2006 to look into allegations of corruption surrounding the sport.
In 2008 a judicial case in Zug implicated unnamed Fifa officials in a multi-million dollar kickback scandal involving bankrupt sport marketing firm ISMM-ISL.
The identities of the Fifa officials were never released and no criminal charges were brought as the offences took place before they fell under the criminal code in Switzerland.
The latest set of corruption allegations revolved around the vote last year to award the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments to Russia and Qatar.
In October, a British newspaper claimed that some football officials were demanding and accepting bribes to cast their votes.
An investigation punished Nigeria football chief Amos Adamu and Reynald Temarii of the Oceana confederation with bans, along with four Fifa officials.
The English football association and British politicians have cried foul over the way the vote took place, with suggestions that bribes were paid.
On Sunday, Blatter’s presidential election rival Mohamed bin Hammam pulled out of the race after being suspended by Fifa’s ethics committee. Fifa vice-president Jack Warner was also suspended, but Blatter was cleared of charges of wrongdoing.
Fifa’s ethics committee could throw both Bin Hammam and Warner out of the game if its ongoing investigation proves corruption.end of infobox