Friday, December 01, 2006

The Rot at the Top

Book Review:
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.

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.
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...

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:

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.

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.

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.




Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Hamish

Did Jennings do the Pope-murder book?

He is certainly tied up with the England has been robbed mob. You know the story about how England set-up soccer then was at war with FIFA till after the 1950s.

It's hard to be innocent after reading these books. But real-politics is very complex. And it hard to see who the good guys really are.

Lots of examples from the Jennings line of thinking. For us - Australia was promised direct qualification via Oceana - then we weren't.

Anyway, I interested in whether you still think we shouldn't have video refing. Because one line of thought is that we don't is a result of this intrigue.

December 02, 2006 11:32 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's the longest post I have ever seen you put out Hamish! Good to see you looking at th top and bottom, but its not some sort of transferal after the Roar's slipping fortunes. Mate, they'll come good, you, me and scary all know that, Miron said so.
I watched the insider last night (big tobacco, fat Russel Crowe) and there are echos here. too have heard of Jenning as a thorn, but you seem to be quite capable of rechecking his assertions where possible - fronting FIFA for answers - love it. just don't put me off the game just as I was getting back into it. Actually, how about constructing a thesis of everything we should AVOID in the world game before we get too good at it?

December 02, 2006 2:55 pm  
Blogger Hamish Alcorn said...

John, you ask, "Did Jennings do the Pope-murder book?" I don't know but as far as I can see from some preliminary searching, no. He's done some interesting stuff though, about organised crime, and more recently about Olympics scandals. He's no light-weight, and he writes for the big boys in the UK.

I don't know much about the "England has been robbed mob" either, though I'm broadly familiar, through Bill Murray's book, with the era you're referring to. Do elaborate please if you find the time.

I'd love to learn more about Australia's dealings with FIFA. On page 243 of Foul! Jennings implicates "Australia's Basil Scarcella", but not with any detail, and hence not especially convincingly. The basic equation is that three months earlier Blatter "had helped give the Oceania region their own slot in the World Cup finals," and "If Australia could win the slot it would bring in the money to pay the association's chronic debts." This is posited as the reason Blatter could rely on Scarcella in FIFA's new audit committee, which went ahead to report "that everything was absolutely tickety-boo.".

If anyone can shed more light on the Australian connection, with links and sources where possible, I would greatly appreciate that.

Video Reffing... Corruption - as was graphically exposed in the Italian League - remains the single strongest argument for video reffing, but I still don't support it within games. As I've said before, my biggest objection is that it makes football a high-tech game at the elite level, where at every other level it is a game that can be played in its fullness with no technology at all. My own answer to the problems of corruption is that it must be dealt with among humans and not with technology. At an under 7s game a ref might be biased. At a World Cup a ref might be biased. The nature of the problem is the same - it is ultimately spiritual and moral. Maybe that's inadequate but it remains my position, and if my son's team loses because of this factor (where video reffing is not even available), then that opens up an entire arena of spiritual, moral growth to explore. Is life any different?

See you tonight mate - looking forward to meeting you. Maybe we should try to hook up with Jesse of the Roar some time as well.

Wayne, I'm quietly confident about the Roar's chances tonight. I am ready to say however, that my optimistic loyalty has reached its last straw: if the Roar loses tonight, I lose hope, at least for this season.

As I've indicated before, politics was my big interest before football so it's probably inevitable that I get mired in the politics of football eventually. As for, "constructing a thesis of everything we should AVOID in the world game before we get too good at it," I think we should all engage with this problematic. Our game IS beautiful, just as humans are beautiful, and is also going to always remain flawed along with our humanity. Making the game beautiful is making ourselves beautiful.

Ok, ok, I'm a wanker. Cheers.

December 02, 2006 3:42 pm  
Blogger john said...

Try a book about Australian football called 'Shootout' - its in the library - it focuses on a few things including the Agents who sold young Aussies OS. And there was a famous senate inquiry called The Crawford Report - are these public?

Did you know Frank Lowey says John Howard rang and asked him to save Australian football?

December 02, 2006 3:53 pm  
Blogger Mike Salter said...

Good stuff Hamish.

You might be interested in this - a transcript of Jennings' original documentary on BBS Panorama. I haven't yet read "Foul" (although I'm extremely keen to - just haven't found it in the shops yet), but I know the basic story.

Apparently Jennings has another doco coming out soon.

And by the way, you have there one reason (of very many) why Les Murray and the SBS mob put me off. Les is a serial Blatter brown-noser, if you'll pardon my French, and his cohorts follow suit.

December 02, 2006 4:14 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Making the game beautiful is making ourselves beautiful."

Hamish, i don't normally answer with a quote, but here is one nevertheless:
"Indeed, we philosophers and "free spirits" feel, when we hear the news that the "old god is dead," as if a new dawn shone on us; our heart overflows with gratitude, amazement, premonitions, expectation,—at long last the horizon appears free to us again, even if it should not be bright; at long last our ships may venture out again, venture out to face any danger; all the daring of the lover of knowledge is permitted again; the sea, our sea, lies open again; perhaps there has never yet been such an 'open sea'."

Freddie Neitzche- Nurnburg FC

Episis! (greek for "back at ya")

December 02, 2006 8:55 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"if the Roar loses tonight, I lose hope, at least for this season."-

Not yet you don't Hamish! Matty Mackay in the 81st minute....:)

December 02, 2006 9:02 pm  
Blogger Hamish Alcorn said...

"Matty McKay in the 81st minute..."

Glorious. I'm drunk, my voice is gone, and I now know that there is a god.

December 02, 2006 10:10 pm  
Blogger Hamish Alcorn said...

Thanks Mike and John for the leads. I have a lot of reading to do if I'm going to continue pursuing this stuff.

The Crawford Report is here by the way.

The philosophy is appreciated Wayne, though I fear that to date I may be one of those who you would say misunderstands Nietzche, who I see as a philosopher for an ego gone mad. That doesn't mean I'm all that qualified to say so (my reading of him was limited and about 20 years ago), and it's a nice quote.

December 03, 2006 11:09 am  
Blogger The Round Ball Analyst said...

Great work Hamish, been meaning to read it for some time but as you so put, "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."

Indeed, I stumbled across it at Sydney airport on the way to Germany for the WC, but couldn't bring myself to reading it on the way to FIFA's showpiece.

Thanks again for the review Hamish, I'll let you know if I decide to read it.

December 03, 2006 7:02 pm  

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