TV review: Sepp Blatter and 'corrupt FIFA mafia' got rich by exploiting the passion of football fans

TV review: Blatter and 'corrupt FIFA mafia' got rich exploiting passion of fans

07/12/2015 at 22:49Updated 08/12/2015 at 07:37

The work of reporter Andrew Jennings on the BBC's Panorama programme FIFA, Sepp Blatter and Me should be applauded - his investigative journalism work helped the FBI in exposing corruption within FIFA, writes Desmond Kane.

Jennings asks if the FBI are the best thing to happen to football. "Maybe not FIFA, but perhaps the best thing that happened for football," responds Alexandra Wrage, an authority on anti-corruption and a former member of the FIFA Independent Governance Committee who resigned her position after growing disgruntled over the goings on at world football's governing body.

After studying his findings on the BBC Panorama investigation into corruption at FIFA, what cannot be disputed is that Jennings is not the best thing to happen to Blatter. And neither is his 15 years of work aimed at bringing Blatter and the FIFA house crashing down. It was prompted by evidence given to the FBI by Jennings that revealed disgraced FIFA vice-president Chuck Blazer had been guilty of fraud and receiving payments to off-shore accounts.

In a fascinating hour-long programme titled FIFA, Sepp Blatter & Me on the Beeb on Monday night, we perhaps did not learn much that would shock anybody who has being paying attention to the ongoing unravelling of world football's governing body, but Jennings should be applauded for his obvious newsgathering skills, desire and hunger to root out such grand-scale corruption at an organisation that he describes as the "Mafia" with president Blatter cast in the role of Godfather.

His work has been vindicated in recent months to a staggering level.

Jennings reminded you of Columbo in his rain jacket with his style of questioning as he pursued some farcical figures who had have their snouts in the trough at FIFA under Blatter for decades. Some have been arrested, some like Jack Warner, the former president of CONCACAF, are fighting extradition to the US after being banned from football for life.

Joao Havelange the former FIFA President and current FIFA president, Sepp Blatter

Joao Havelange the former FIFA President and current FIFA president, Sepp BlatterAFP

"It was the first time, Sepp's signature had been found on a dodgy contract," says Jennings just before Blatter was suspended from his position for 90 days.

FIFA claimed they were due to receive half of this figure back, but there was nothing in the agreed contract to suggest any such promise had been made.

Jennings' tales see him take in more locations than your average James Bond film as he visits London, Zurich, the Cayman Islands, New York and Washington regaling stories of gambling rackets, bribes, thieves, murdering gangsters, fraud and clamped to FIFA. And the list goes on and on. You name it, it was all there in Jennings' warts and all account of how FIFA have run the world game for their own personal profit.

Jennings was invited to give evidence about FIFA to the US Senate in July while he learning that Sepp, the main objective of his disaffection, was under investigation by the authorities in the US and Switzerland.

"Blatter's FIFA ticks all the boxes defining an organised crime syndicate," said Jennings. "They hid their criminality behind the world's most popular game.

"They (US senate) realise our beautiful game has been stolen by crooks."

He describes the CBF, the Brazilian football HQ, as a "rest home for criminals". Jennings reveals that the FBI are keen to gain access to the bank account of the Brazilian football president Marco Polo Del Nero, who is later indicted with 39 FIFA officials and associates charged with corruption.

Brazil's former FIFA president, Joao Havelange, is accused of exploiting the natural passion for football in the home of the five-time World Cup winners.

"Joao Havelange (the former FIFA president) took organised crime to FIFA, and helped his son-in-law Ricardo Teixeira become the boss of Brazilian football," said Jennings.

The news broke on Sunday that Blatter is being investigated by the FBI over the $100 million (£66.4m) ISL bribes scandal.

Panorama said that during the 1990s, FIFA's now defunct sports marketing company ISL paid that sum in bribes to numerous officials including Havelange and Brazil's former FIFA member Teixeira, who was indicted by US authorities on corruption charges last week.

FIFA executive member Chuck Blazer attends the 61st FIFA congress at the Hallenstadion in Zurich June 1, 2011

FIFA executive member Chuck Blazer attends the 61st FIFA congress at the Hallenstadion in Zurich June 1, 2011Reuters

According to Panorama, a letter apparently written by Havelange suggests Blatter, who is currently suspended from his position as FIFA president, was aware of the payments but took no action.

Jennings says that a tiny desert kingdom in Qatar will host the 2022 World Cup. "Even I did not realise how bent it was," says Jennings. "Half of the men who voted (to decide the World Cup host nation) in 2010 have now been accused of corruption."

This is the passion that is being exploited. And according to Jennings, not only in Brazil.

"Football fans can only hope the Feds (FBI) can finish the job. One way or another, Blatter will finally be taking a rest from football. Either in retirement or in prison. I told you he was a crook."


ISL, or International Sports and Leisure, was a Swiss sports marketing firm tied in to FIFA which bought and re-sold TV rights deals for World Cups worth millions of dollars.

The company paid bribes to Havelange,Teixeira and former CONMEBOL president Nicolas Leoz in order to secure those rights on the most favourable terms before re-selling them on again at hugely increased rates, particularly in the Americas.

FIFA's own ethics committee investigation was closed in April 2014, with Hans-Joachim Eckert ruling that the bribes had indeed been paid, but as all three men had already resigned no further action was taken.

Each escaped prosecution since at the time that they accepted the bribes, taking "commission" in this manner was not prohibited by Swiss laws.


Eckert's ruling last year cleared Sepp Blatter of any wrongdoing over the ISL case. It did however call him "clumsy", and opening questioned whether Blatter "knew or should have known over the years before the bankruptcy of ISL that ISL had made payments (bribes) to other FIFA officials."

But FIFA's report exonerated Blatter on the key issue: "There are no indications whatsoever that President Blatter was responsible for a cash flow to Havelange, Teixeira or Leoz, or that he himself received any payments from the ISL Group, even in the form of hidden kickback payments."

That key phrase "no indications whatsoever" appears to be what the latest FBI investigation is putting to the test.