THE DIRTY GAME: Uncovering the Scandal at FIFA
Arrow Books, 2016, 305 pages
Review by Phil Shannon
In 2014, the unravelling of the empire of Sepp Blatter, the multi-millionaire president of world football, began. Blatter fretted as he presided over that year’s Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA) Congress in Brazil as the corrupt, money-flushed bribe-takers and expense fraudsters from the world’s national and regional football associations, flanked by mounted police, fought their way through protesters who were angrily chanting ‘we want schools and hospitals FIFA-style’. The next year, eight of Blatter’s thieving peers from the FIFA elite (its Executive Committee) were arrested by police, and Blatter, himself, was forced to announce his impending retirement.
How had it come to this? In The Dirty Game, the British investigative reporter, Andrew Jennings, hangs out FIFA’s dirty laundry. Jennings played a crucial role in the crumbling of FIFA’s criminal enterprise by providing confidential FIFA documents to the FBI identifying corrupt FIFA officials.
Jennings locates the rise of FIFA corruption to 1974, when the head of Brazilian football, João Havelange, the darling of South America’s many military dictators and a bit-player in Brazil’s organised crime network, was elected FIFA president, funding his vote-buying through pilfering $6 million from the Brazilian Federation for Sport which he headed and treated as his personal ATM.
Blatter became understudy (FIFA General Secretary) to Havelange and, when he succeeded Havelange as president in 1998, he applied his master’s lessons, such as the power to sign, with no counter-signature, FIFA cheques to himself, to family, to friends and to those needing to be bribed.
As big corporate money moved in on global football and its centrepiece World Cup, the scope for major corruption expanded and opened up lush pastures for Blatter and his acolytes to graze on, including fraudulent travel and accommodation expenses, black market rackets with World Cup tickets, and a host of tasty perks and fringe benefits.
Their biggest revenue stream, however, was bribery - expensive gifts, suitcases of cash, brown bags stuffed with dollars, cheques made out ‘pay to bearer’ - for their votes on World Cup hosting, sponsorship and broadcasting rights. All monies received were hidden in FIFA’s “opaque financial reports” and, of course, laundered through their off-shore, tax-haven accounts.
There are many corrupt fingers in the corporate-fattened FIFA financial pie but special mention must be made of two master FIFA crooks, Jack Warner and Chuck Blazer.
The World Cup self-enrichment of the Trinidadian, Warner (president of CONCACAF, the Central and North American regional football federation), was extensive, including his theft from Australian taxpayers for their 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids which was “in a class of its own”, says Jennings. Warner wangled a cheque for $462,200 from Football Federation Australia for an ‘upgrade’ to his bogus ‘Centre of Excellence’, purportedly established for Caribbean soccer development but which was, in reality, an expensive leisure and entertainment complex, built and run by thieving $30 million from FIFA and CONCACAF.
Warner also took bribes from Blatter to fund his Caribbean business and political interests in return for the three dozen votes he controlled from the region’s micro-states shoring up Blatter’s re-election prospects.
The American, Chuck Blazer (CONCACAF’s General Secretary), trousered over $400 million of FIFA and CONCACAF money by automatically garnisheeing 10% of all CONCACAF television and marketing revenues, supplemented through unspecified ‘commissions’ and ‘monthly fees’. This financed every dollar of Blazer’s lavish living costs, including luxury apartment rent ($18,000 a month) in Trump Tower in New York.
It was Blazer who, when tumbled by the FBI, pulled the plug on FIFA. A grotesque glutton, Blazer feared, more than anything else, a diet of jail food for the rest of his life, and he sang like Pavarotti, turning informer on dozens of his FIFA cronies.
Facing his own come-uppance is Blatter, whose secret salary, expenses and bonuses of around $4 million a year came courtesy of his vast powers of patronage, dispensed through multi-million dollar football ‘development grants’, World Cup ticket boondoggles and the provision of tasty freebies and generous bonuses to the global FIFA crime family to buy their loyalty. The FIFA fish rots from the head.
Jennings’ book focuses on the detailed forensics of how a dogged journalist uncovered FIFA corruption rather than developing a broad analysis of the money culture of FIFA but Jennings deserves praise for his patient pursuit of the corporate exploiters and the financial bloodsuckers from the world’s soccer bureaucracies who engorge themselves off the people's game.