FIFA’s Inadequate Code of Ethics and Australia’s World Cup Bid

Australia’s 2022 World Cup bid is in serious trouble, as World Football Insider explains:

Australia’s World Cup bid team has been accused of handing out inappropriate inducements to FIFA ex-co members and misleading its own government over how taxpayers’ money is spent.

An investigation published by Australia’s Age newspaper and its sister titles in the Fairfax media group alleges the country’s bid team bought jewelery worth more than A$50,000 ($42,670) for the wives of many of the 24 FIFA Ex-co members .

The bid team also stands accused of offering an all-expenses-paid trip to Guatemalan FIFA executive committee member Rafael Salguero and his wife to Australia to mark his birthday earlier this year.

FIFA’s rules of bid conduct prohibit more than token gifts being given by bid teams. Last year England’s bid team were plunged into controversy after giving out Mulberry handbags worth £235 ($354).

But it’s interesting to explore the defense by Ben Buckley, CEO of Football Federation Australia (FFA), in a letter to the Age published by the newspaper, as it shows that the FFA may well have followed FIFA’s rules to the letter of the law in terms of the gift-giving — bringing up the question of whether FIFA’s rules on gift-giving are actually adequate. Here’s his defense:

It is a widely accepted, common practice amongst governments, many businesses and sporting organisations to provide symbolic gifts to visiting international delegations. Gift giving as part of the FIFA World Cup bidding process is a permitted and common practice. FIFA has specific guidelines confirming this. FFA has at all times complied with these guidelines, including the FIFA Code of Ethics and other bidding regulations.

During the bidding process, gifts have included boomerangs, Drizabone jackets, Australian wines, scarves, beanies, RMWilliams belts and wallets. At the FIFA Congress in Sydney in May 2008, prior to the formal bidding process, gifts given by FFA included Paspaley cufflinks and pendants. In all cases, gifts given are specifically selected as symbolically representative of Australian culture and are consistent with FIFA’s regulations relating to gift giving.

So, then, thanks to Ben Buckley, we learn that FIFA has a Code of Ethics. Who knew?  In fact, the Code of Ethics was introduced in October 2004, after scandal finally forced FIFA to do…something rather toothless, as we’ll see.

FIFA’s Code of Ethics has a section on gift-giving that applies at all FIFA officials at all times:

This Code applies to all officials. Officials are all board members, committee members, referees and assistant referees, coaches, trainers and any other persons responsible for technical, medical and administrative matters in FIFA, a confederation, association, league or club.

Part 10 of the “Rules of Conduct” covers “Accepting and giving gifts and other benefits”:

1. Officials are not permitted to accept gifts and other benefits that exceed the average relative value of local cultural customs from any third parties. If in doubt, gifts shall be declined. Accepting gifts of cash in any amount or form is prohibited.

2. While performing their duties, officials may give gifts and other benefits in accordance with the average relative value of local cultural customs to third parties, provided no dishonest advantages are gained and there is no conflict of interest.

This Code of Ethics applies at all times to all officials of FIFA (such as a FIFA Executive Committee member) and its associations (such as the FFA) — essentially, these officials may only accept token gifts. Buckley, then, is arguing that the following as described by the Sydney Morning Herald was in line with this Code of Ethics:

Bought Paspaley pearl necklaces for the wives of many of the 24 FIFA executive committee members who in December will decide which countries will host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. Pearl cufflinks were also handed out, taking the total value of the gifts to an estimated $50,000.

That’s some expensive average relative value of local cultural custom, there. Surely that can’t be considered a token gift? Ah, but here’s the clever catch: these gifts were given to the wives of FIFA Executive Committee members, not the officials themselves: the Code says nothing about anyone accompanying the officials receiving gifts. And it’s very, very important to remember that these gifts were given to the wives before Australia had submitted its official bid, even though everyone knew they were about to do so. So even though the gifts had significant value, they are allowed under FIFA’s general Code of Ethics.

This is a crucial distinction because as Buckley also mentioned, there are further “other bidding regulations” that apply to gift-giving from FIFA Member Nations during the World Cup bid process — ie, once an official bid has been submitted to FIFA. These further Rules of Conduct state that

The Member Association and the Bid Committee shall refrain, and shall ensure that each entity or individual associated or affiliated with it shall refrain, from providing to FIFA or to any representative of FIFA, to any member of the FIFA Executive Committee, the FIFA Inspection Group, FIFA consultants, or any of their respective relatives, companions, guests or nominees

(i) any monetary gifts;

(ii) any kind of personal advantage that could give even the impression of exerting influence, or conflict of interest, either directly or indirectly, in connection with the Bidding Process, such as at the beginning of a collaboration, whether with private persons, a company or any authorities, except for occasional gits that are generally regarded as having symbolic or incidental value and that exclude any influence on a decision in relation to the Bidding Process; and

(iii) any benefit, opportunity, promise, renumeration or service to any of such individuals, in connection with the Bidding Process.

[emphasis added]

So, we can see that FIFA tightens up the regulations during the bidding process. It now includes in the section on gift-giving “any of their respective relatives, companions, guests or nominees” of the officials.

Again, those expensive pearl necklaces were apparently given to the wives of FIFA Executive Committee members before Australia submitted its bid. FIFA’s Code of Ethics, unlike FIFA’s further Rules of Conduct during the bidding process, does not mention “any of their respective relatives, companions, guests or nominees.”

This distinction, clearly, is ludicrous: Buckley might be right that the FFA followed the letter of the rules, but it just makes it clear that the rules are absurd. The “respective relatives, companions, guests or nominees” of FIFA officials should always be subject to the tighter Rules of Conduct regarding gift-giving, as it’s now very obvious how open to abuse they are.

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