FIFA ‘Clearly Unconvincing’ in Dealing With Graft, Report Says

World soccer’s governing body has been “clearly unconvincing” in the way it investigates and prosecutes accusations of misconduct, according to a group commissioned to suggest reform measures by FIFA.

A 13-member panel led by Swiss law professor Mark Pieth said the way FIFA handles misconduct is “insufficient to meet the challenges of a major global sport governing body.”

“This has led to unsatisfactory reactions to persistent allegations,” said the report from the Independent Governance Committee released today. “The IGC has identified a lack of proactive and systematic investigation of allegations. In some instances, allegations were insufficiently investigated and where sanctions were imposed, they are at times insufficient and clearly unconvincing.”

In response, FIFA President Sepp Blatter today said a new ethics panel would be created with separate investigative and judicial arms headed by independent chairmen.

The changes come after the current ethics body, which includes only FIFA-affiliated officials, came under criticism for the way it looked into allegations of wrongdoing during the contest to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, won by Russia and Qatar.

Only 22 of the 24-member board could vote after two officials were suspended for offering to sell their support to undercover journalists. Since then almost half of the voters have either been sanctioned for or accused of breaching regulations.

Re-Election Scrutiny

The Council of Europe, an advisory group to 47 countries, said Blatter’s re-election last year to a fourth term as president should also be scrutinized. The 75-year-old was the sole candidate after his only challenger, Mohamed Bin Hammam, quit days before he was investigated for offering $1 million to voters in the Caribbean. Bin Hammam is appealing a life ban from the sport.

The new ethics panel could look into previous allegations should “credible allegations” be made, according to Blatter.

“If somebody wishes to investigate, this is something the Congress can do, or the members of the national associations who participated in the elections,” Blatter said at a press conference after Pieth met with FIFA officials.

At present, complaints are made through FIFA’s general secretary Jerome Valcke, who is responsible for passing them to the ethics committee. Valcke has avoided investigation himself on two occasions in recent times.

The first probe was over an e-mail in which he wrote Qatar had “bought” the 2022 World Cup, and the second concerns a handwritten note to former FIFA vice president Jack Warner over television rights assigned to Warner that weren’t subject to FIFA’s usual tender process.

Look to Past

Pieth had said before his meeting today that he believed past accusations of malfeasance should be investigated before FIFA could be reformed. FIFA last year promised to publish a file naming officials who took payments from the organization’s bankrupt former marketing partner ISL. That document remains unpublished following appeals to Swiss courts by two of the people involved.

Pieth, who works at the Basel Institute on Governance and investigated corruption in Iraq’s oil-for-food program in 2004, has been critical of the court’s failure to clear the document. He’s said he'd quit if FIFA didn’t take the need for change seriously, saying there was reputational risk associated with advising the soccer body. His group includes former U.K. Attorney General Peter Goldsmith, former Watergate investigator Michael J. Hershman and Kim Seung Tack, chief operating officer of Hyundai Motor Co.

The report also recommended a new compliance committee that decides executive pay, term limits of up to two four-year terms and a system to vet nominees for top positions. Blatter last year said he earns “a little bit more” than $1 million. Pieth’s report said all salaries should be made public.

The executive committee’s approval for the changes will now need to be ratified by FIFA’s 208 members at their annual Congress in Budapest in May.

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