Legal Attack On the Defense Again

The controversial World Cup awards could become the subject of litigation, with Sepp Blatter, the head of soccer’s global governing body, coming under attack.
Is Sepp Blatter being kept in the dark?

Mr. Blatter has a problem, one of many he has faced in his 17 years at the helm of FIFA. The two men he tasked to look into accusations of corruption surrounding the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup events to Russia and Qatar have arrived at different conclusions. Hans-Joachim Eckert says the corruption accusations are not true, while Michael Garcia says they are.

The attempt to whitewash the issue has turned into a scandal, which has also touched Mr. Blatter. The all-powerful soccer official wanted the subject of corruption and cronyism off the table by the time he runs for his fifth term as FIFA president in May 2015.

Instead, his critics appear to be getting the upper hand. They have called for the release of the full Garcia report to judge for themselves whether Mr. Eckert, who has presented a summary of the analysis, is correct.

Mr. Blatter has so far rejected the demand, saying that releasing the report is impossible, in the interest of protecting the many witnesses Garcia interviewed for his investigative report.

If we had anything to hide, we would hardly be taking this matter to the office of the attorney general. Sepp Blatter, FIFA President

Legal experts support the FIFA president's position. "The principle of fidelity and loyalty applies in the law of associations. This includes the fact that internal disputes are always handled internally," said Markus H. Schneider, a German attorney specialized in sports issues. "That's why I view the legal concerns of associations, which FIFA cites as its justification for opposing a release of the Garcia report, as reasonable."

Instead, FIFA has taken the matter to the office of the Swiss attorney general in Bern, which has confirmed receiving a criminal complaint from the world soccer association.

FIFA noted the complaint is directed against individuals. For Mr. Blatter, the step is an acknowledgment of greater transparency. "If we had anything to hide, we would hardly be taking this matter to the office of the attorney general," the FIFA president is quoted as saying on the association's website.

But Sylvia Schenk, senior advisor for sport at Transparency International, called the criminal complaint "a desperate diversionary tactic."

Jürgen Mittag, a professor of sports policy at the German Sport University in Cologne, said the move was an attempt "to find a sacrificial lamb" and risked that more "could come to light in the end than FIFA would care for."

Mr. Mittag added that the case is not about the misconduct of individuals, but about the "FIFA system," which makes decision-makers so susceptible to corruption.

If susceptibility to corruption is to be reduced, the FIFA system has to be broken. Jürgen Mittag, Sports Professor at the University of Cologne

"Those who control the instruments of power shape FIFA policy with no scrutiny or counterbalance whatsoever," Mr. Mittag told Handelsblatt. Aside from financial means, the most important instrument of power is the ability to award the hosting rights for the World Cup. This power is in the hands of a small group of people, the FIFA executive committee.

"If susceptibility to corruption is to be reduced, the FIFA system has to be broken," Mr. Mittag said. But the inner circle has no interest in doing so, he added.

Accusations are mounting by the day. So far, Mr. Garcia has only voiced general criticism of Mr. Eckert's mild assessment, saying it contained "many incomplete and faulty depictions of the facts and conclusions."

The charges leveled by Phaedra Almajid are more concrete. The former member of Qatar's application committee, one of Mr. Garcia's key witnesses, is incensed that Mr. Eckert views Qatar's bid as completely acceptable. The report characterized her statements as "heavy-handed, cynical and fundamentally flawed," Ms. Almajid wrote in her letter to Mr. Garcia.

The Qataris have allegedly threatened her with a damage suit for $1 million (€800,000) unless she retracts her allegations of corruption. In addition to Ms. Almajid, Australian sports administrator Bonita Mersiades also said that Mr. Eckert's report challenged her credibility.

 

 Stefan Kaufmann is a reporter covering politics at Handelsblatt Online. To contact the author: [email protected]