The Rot at the Top
Andrew Jennings, Foul! The Secret World of FIFA: Bribes, Vote Rigging and Ticket Scandals, HarperSport, 2006.
Well last week I reviewed the muck on the bottom of the Beautiful Game's shoe. The rot at the top, if Jenning's book is anything to go by, is not marginal, but dominant and perennial. We also don't get to see it on TV.
There is one very compelling argument to never read this book. For millions who love football week in week out, and find in it the joy, solace and sociality missing from the grind of life, work and failing to get laid, ignorance may well be bliss. If you don't want to be thoroughly, profoundly and forever disillusioned with the administration of international football, stop reading this review now and pretend that Jenning's book was never written. Easy.
This is FIFA's own official statement about the book:
Zurich, 28 April 2006 - FIFA is aware of the book, Foul, by Andrew Jennings that is set to be published. At first glance, FIFA has noted that the book basically reveals nothing new.If one was to read this statement before reading the book, it might be effective in diverting one from reading the book. Reading the statement after reading the book however, it served as a living example of a tactic the book describes over and over. Having read the book, I know perfectly well, for example, that FIFA has "commented on (the allegations) in writing to the author on several occasions" and also how diversionary and unconvincing those comments were. This dialogue between the author and various FIFA officials makes up a good deal of the book's content, after all. But let's take the last paragraph of this official statement for a bit of scrutiny...
FIFA therefore rejects the allegations having already commented on them in writing to the author on several occasions.
As the book contains a number of false and libellous claims, FIFA applied for an injunction on the publication and distribution of the book as a precaution several months ago. The Zurich cantonal high court complied with this request by passing a provisional ruling on 26 April 2006.
The statement does not say what the "false and libelious claims" are, and nowhere on FIFA's website (please correct me here if you can but I have searched) are these identified. At the same time they are referred to as if they are established and unambiguous, not as if they are merely disputed. This is an old debating trick, and I should say a very clever one if the trickster can rely on a general willingness to believe. We're talking the World administrative body of the World' most popular sport here.
Everything else in the paragraph is clearly correct, though a "provisional ruling" is of course exactly that - a ruling made provisionally until the matter is actually looked at properly. It never has been still, and the reason for that is that FIFA withdrew their application for an injunction. So we have nothing - we have no specified allegations, and no request for an injunction. All we have is the legal fact that FIFA was granted a "provisional injunction" in between applying for one and withdrawing it.
Here is how FIFA puts the wash up now, in full ("Foul!" book: FIFA withdraws request for precautionary measures):
FIFA has withdrawn its request for an injunction to prohibit the publication and distribution in Switzerland of Andrew Jennings' book, 'Foul!'. FIFA had applied for the injunction as a precaution on account of advance notices from the publishers and the information available on the book and its contents. On 26 April 2006, the Zurich cantonal high court granted the request by passing a provisional ruling.
Since then, FIFA has had the opportunity to analyse and evaluate the book from a legal point of view. Although the book does contain various defamatory passages and many inaccurate statements and aspersions, this toned-down version of the book makes it unnecessary for FIFA to continue pursuing legal action.
On 23 September 2005, following the publisher's advance notice, FIFA and FIFA President Blatter applied to the district court of Meilen for an injunction on the distribution of the book as a precautionary measure on account of its untrue and libellous contents. However, as the author and the publishers argued that the book would not be released in the near future, on 3 March 2006 the single judge declined FIFA's request for an injunction. FIFA lodged an appeal against this decision. On 26 April 2006, after various newspapers and the publishers announced a fixed date for the release of the book, the Zurich cantonal high court granted FIFA's request for a temporary injunction.
Once again we are left completely unaware of which "various defamatory passages and many inaccurate statements and aspersions" are being referred to. You would think that it would be important - given the withdrawal of a legal challenge - for FIFA to make us all aware of which statements were inaccurate.
But what I want to draw attention to here is the final sentence of this last statement. "The Zurich cantonal high court granted FIFA's request for a temporary injunction." The real story here is that the request was withdrawn, but what they apparently want to emphasise is that the temporary injunction was granted, however momentarilly. It's all they've got. And it's supposed to be an answer to the book's claims.
FIFA has threatened to sue Jennings before, in 2003 (FIFA to sue Andrew Jennings and Daily Mail), and then failed to pursue the matter. The fact that he has been threatened is supposed to mean something I think. If there was substance one would think FIFA would either, a) not threaten - for whatever strategic reason - or, b) sue away.
I did email FIFA's media people asking if there were further statements about the book on FIFA's website that I'd missed. Firstly I got an automated reply which said that I may not get a reply but also that I should try searching the website for the information I sought. In all seriousness it was sensible advice, and I did so, finding the second statement above.
But the head of FIFA's media department, Andreas Herren, did kindly reply, linking the statement I'd found, as well as another statement, which I can only describe as arrogant, since we still have no indication as to what is incorrect in the book:
Still with nothing specified, we just have an escalation of dismissiveness. The single strategy of FIFA is apparently to undermine and try to divert people from reading the book, without specifying anything or providing any substantive rebuttal.
He's just re-heated old stories. The book ought to be called "revenge foul". He'd get a red card for that on the field of play.
Andreas also asked, "May I enquire what prompted you to contact us on this matter?" I replied that I was an amateur blogger reviewing the book and Andreas kindly rejoined with, "Thanks for your reply, appreciated. If you need more info - also on other matters, let me know."
So about half an hour ago, I emailed once again with, "If I was to ask one question, it would be one that Jennings claims in his book remains unanswered despite repeated asking. It is a painfully reasonable question but in fairness perhaps Jennings was deceiving us in leading us to believe FIFA refused to answer the question. What is the salary and full remuneration package of the President of FIFA?"
I'll keep you informed.
Now Jennings is a well known journalist and Foul! has been selling well and is in all the major bookshops. If it is full of libel and lies then there in no way in the world that FIFA would not be suing the pants off Jennings. If it is full of libel and lies I for one demand that FIFA sue the pants off the bastard because it would be an utterly reprehensible piece of slander, and if unwaranted it is utterly and horribly detrimental to our game. The single best argument for a layperson that all of Jennings' allegations, apparently carefully researched, sourced and cross-referenced, are correct, is that FIFA has failed to take legal action. On that basis I'm guessing they're true.
I am very worried for our sport internationally. Take nothing for granted. Nothing. You might note that like FIFA, I also have not specified any of Jennings' allegations. The difference is that I want you to read the book. Read the book, or not.
Jennings' website is Transparency in Sport.