The man Sepp Blatter first beat to become president of soccer’s governing body says he wants an independent probe into allegations that Blatter promised to sell World Cup television rights to a voter in return for support.
Lennart Johansson, now 82, is asking for an investigation into statements by ex-Caribbean official Jack Warner that Blatter improperly sold him the broadcast rights in his native Trinidad & Tobago for $1. Blatter has yet to directly comment, although FIFA last week said Warner’s claims included “several inaccuracies and falsehoods.” FIFA declined to comment further.
“I think I’m entitled to talk about it because I was the second candidate at the election in 1998,” Johansson, a Swede who once headed European soccer’s governing body, said in an interview in a Zurich hotel earlier this week. “Mr. Warner made us aware of really what’s happened by telling us about it. Then if he’s telling a lie that should be proved. We will see.”
Blatter, 75, was elected to a fourth 4-year term last year after his only challenger, former Asian soccer head Mohamed Bin Hammam, quit the race during an inquiry into allegations that Warner organized a meeting where Bin Hammam gave Caribbean officials $40,000 in cash for their support. Bin Hammam is appealing to sports’ top court against a life ban from soccer, while Warner resigned from his post overseeing the North American, Central American and Caribbean regions before the enquiry could issue a verdict on his conduct.
The departures of Bin Hammam and Warner came during a two- year period in which the organization has dealt with several allegations of improper conduct linked to the choice of host for the $4 billion World Cup and the most recent election. At one point, half the Zurich-based body’s executive body was either suspended or accused of wrongdoing.
Blatter has promised to complete a reform program that will make the organization more transparent and rid it of anyone found to have broken governance rules. He says a legal challenge has blocked his effort to release a document featuring names of soccer officials who took undeclared payments from FIFA’s bankrupt former marketing and television partner. Johansson said he doubts Blatter can lead a successful reform given many of the allegations occurred in the period he’s been president or general secretary of FIFA.
“For people on the streets, FIFA is corruption, is bribery, things like that and they hear it year after year and nothing happens,” he said. “I can’t see how things like that can change.”
Michel Platini, who now heads UEFA, and considered as a frontrunner to lead FIFA after Blatter, told reporters his organization shared the same governing statutes as FIFA but “we have no problems of democracy and transparency.”
“I think it’s a problem of the people and I don’t know what will be the future,” said the Frenchman.
Johansson said members of the executive committee, some of whom have been there for more than two decades, refuse to discuss corruption when he meets them at FIFA events.
“The question is why they stay under these circumstances,” he said. “They don’t like to talk about it. And the worst thing is it creates a lot of speculation about why they behave like this.”
Author David Yallop reported in his book ‘How They Stole the Game’ that cash bundles of $50,000 were handed out to African delegates in Paris before Blatter’s victory over Johansson. Blatter, who’d been supported by Bin Hammam and Warner in 1998, told reporters at a roundtable meeting last year, money changed hands before his first election, denying it was anything to do with him.
“Who has bought votes in the first election? Go down to Paris in June 8, 1998, in the Meridien Montparnasse,” Blatter told reporters in the weeks before securing the latest term, which he says will be his last.
Johansson described himself as “very naive.” He said he was shocked at the result after claiming he’d got enough “handshakes” to make him believe he could win.
Warner said he was also granted television rights to World Cup tournaments in 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014 editions.
“We need to investigate Warner’s comments for the reputation of football not to help Mr. Warner,” Johansson said. “I lost and now I hear that they bought the votes.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Tariq Panja in London at firstname.lastname@example.org