Frustrated anti-corruption watchdog cuts ties with Fifa

A leading consultant has cut ties with Fifa out of frustration with football’s embattled world governing body, dealing a blow to president Sepp Blatter’s anti-corruption mission.

Global anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International said its working relationship with Blatter’s organisation broke down because past allegations of wrongdoing won’t be investigated. It also objected to Fifa paying Swiss bribery expert Mark Pieth to oversee reforms.

Sylvia Schenk, TI’s sports adviser, said she was “just astonished” that its conditions for joining Pieth’s panel — and upholding the not-for-profit group’s standard of independence — were not accepted by Fifa.

“They neglected our recommendations,” Schenk said. “I can’t understand it. I’m just wondering what happened from one day to another … It is all the better that we are not a member of it.”

Blatter praised Schenk’s work advising Fifa six weeks ago when he outlined a two-year plan to clean up world football and improving the ethical behaviour of its leaders after a series of bribery and World Cup vote-rigging allegations.

Credibility
“This cooperative work is continuing and I hope it will continue long into the future,” the Fifa president said on October 21.

Fifa declined to comment on Thursday.

Pieth said he did not believe his credibility had been damaged.

“You have to have people that you trust but you have to pay them,” the former UN investigator said. “I hope they [TI] will stay as critical observers. I think we need them.”

Schenk and Pieth were asked to help Fifa after Blatter pledged zero tolerance of corruption on being re-elected in June, when a bribery scandal derailed the campaign of his only challenger, Mohamed bin Hammam.

‘Transparent investigation’
Transparency International told Fifa it should order independent probes into the 2018 and 2022 World Cup votes to win back public trust.

“The lack of a fully transparent investigation leaves the root of the problem untouched,” stated a report co-written by Schenk.

Blatter followed its advice regarding the 10-year-old ISL scandal. He pledged that Fifa will this month identify which senior officials took millions of dollars in kickbacks from the bankrupt former agency that marketed the World Cup broadcast rights.

However, more recent claims involving elected Fifa officials seem unlikely to be touched.

Schenk, a German lawyer and former Olympic middle-distance runner, stood by her previous demand on Thursday.

‘Not independent’
“For us, it is essential to look into the past and get into the allegations,” she said.

Transparency International, which typically advises governments and corporations on ethical management, also has rules which prohibit signing contracts to be paid by clients.

“Because then it is not independent,” Schenk said, proposing that Fifa sponsors could fund work by Pieth’s panel.

Blatter is scheduled to identify up to 18 members of Pieth’s Independent Governance Committee, after a December 17 executive committee meeting in Tokyo.

‘Mix of corruption’
“They don’t need to have a contract, they just need remuneration for their expenses,” Schenk said.

The public row between transparency experts came after Pieth gave his first news conference Wednesday as paid chairperson of the panel which will coordinate reform proposals made by three other task forces appointed by Fifa.

Pieth published his own advisory report which described the World Cup votes by Fifa’s 24-man ruling body as “a mix of corruption risk and conflict of interest concerns”.

Still, he ruled out revisiting previous scandals even while he acknowledged they should be examined.

Fresh probes
“I don’t care to rake up all that muck,” Pieth said. “I think I can be of much more use looking into the future. I need to convince people, rather than take them to court.”

Blatter has been under pressure to improve Fifa’s battered image after four executive committee members were banned or resigned in the past year.

When asked if the decision to award the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar should be studied again, Blatter told a German newspaper this month that it could happen if Schenk or Pieth advised Fifa it was necessary.

Blatter added that his executive committee and Fifa’s 208 member nations must also agree to fresh probes. — Sapa-AP

Graham Dunbar
Graham Dunbar works from Switzerland, usually Geneva. Associated Press sports writer. Opinions are my own. Graham Dunbar has over 4914 followers on Twitter.
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