FIFA, Blatter, Blackmail and the 2010 World Cup Draw

Sepp BlatterToday, the draw for the qualifying round of the 2010 World Cup will take place. It will be beamed to 173 countries, and FIFA’s General Secretary Jérôme Valcke will be centre stage alongside Sepp Blatter.

Yet less than twelve months ago, Valcke, then FIFA’s marketing director, faced ruin following the finding of an American court that he had lied to both Visa and Mastercard during sponsorship negotiations for the 2010 and 2014 World Cups.

Shortly after, he lost his job and seemed destined for oblivion. But he was reinstated as the ruling went to the appeals court, and FIFA finally settled out of court for a mere US$90 million with Mastercard.

Amazingly, just six months later, Valcke was promoted to an even more powerful position in FIFA as Blatter’s number two. As ever, acclaimed investigative journalist Andrew Jennings cuts through the bullshit surrounding this bizarre timeline of events, and simply asks in today’s Sunday Herald: “What hold does the mendacious Valcke have over the wily Blatter, to prise out of him the game’s No 2 job?”

Valcke was asked whether he knew of corruption at FIFA by The Independent in the summer, answering that “Maybe I shouldn’t say this, but I can swear on the people I like the most that I have never seen in my four years at Fifa… something where I could have said, ‘Oh, this is corruption’.”

But pay attention to his careful wording of “in my four years at Fifa,”, for Valcke had close dealings with Sepp Blatter in 2001, before he worked for FIFA. Jennings explains:

Wind the clock back, it’s Spring 2001. The sports marketing company that pays hefty bribes to certain of Fifa’s leaders in return for billion-dollar World Cup contracts sinks into insolvency. In the 1990s the ISL company has parted with nearly £20 million in kickbacks. The well is dry.

Along comes Monsieur Valcke and a band of entrepreneurs from the Vivendi company in Paris. They will buy the wreckage of ISL and its dreamy World Cup television and marketing contracts. But, first, due diligence, as the forensic accountants call it, to see what assets are left and how the company got its business.

Valcke and his team look hard at the books, have exchanges behind closed doors with Fifa, then suddenly go home to Paris, leaving ISL to crash. There’s never been an explanation of what went wrong [. . .]

After the crash I went to the first creditors’ meeting in a salon in the city of Zug, cornered the liquidator and secured the easy admission that he had found evidence of dirty money washing around ISL’s basement and out to Fifa officials.

The bribes went to offshore companies and accounts connected to some members of Fifa’s executive committee. Any trainee accountant would have found the money-trail his first morning excavating ISL.

Did Valcke and his team find the same evidence? How could they not? Everybody in the sports marketing loop knew, had gossiped for years about the screamingly obvious.

And Jennings has gained possession of a key document that discusses “threats” made by Vivendi’s lawyer Alain Goor to FIFA as the negotiations unravelled. In the letter from Blatter to Valcke, he asserts that “the position of Fifa in no way will ever be altered by any threats or attempts of blackmailing.”

Clues to what the “blackmailing” threat refers to can be seen in two memos sent to Blatter from FIFA’s Zurich lawyers, Niederer Kraft & Frey, which suggests Vivendi had threatened FIFA with “extremely serious consequences” against what Blatter himself describes as “certain gentlemen of FIFA.”

Ultimately, those “serious consequences” were evaded by FIFA’s “gentlemen” and two years later Blatter picked Valcke to run FIFA’s marketing in-house. When Valcke blundered and lied his way into a massive humiliation that cost FIFA $90 million, he only found himself promoted months later.

Valcke will be all smiles again today at the draw, but one hopes it won’t be long until it’s justly wiped off his face for the good of the game.

You can read the Blatter’s letter and the FIFA memos at Jenning’s website, Transparency in Sport.

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