FIFA report highlights why an unaccountable organization can’t police itself

Hans-Joachim Eckert, the chairman of FIFA’s adjudicatory chamber of the independent Ethics Committee, today released an at times oddly colloquial 42-page summary of Michael J. Garcia’s two-year independent investigation into corruption allegations surrounding the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids, awarded to Russia and Qatar, respectively.

Eckert found, perhaps unsurprisingly, that there wasn’t enough evidence based on the report’s findings to issue a re-vote for the respective bids. As Eckert wrote in his summary conclusion, “the main challenge with regard to corruption is proving it,” and the German judge with 30 years experience found Garcia’s report did not meet that standard of proof.

Perhaps FIFA hoped this would mean the long, tired saga of the legitimacy of the twin bids, particularly for World Cup 2022, was finally over and done with. It did its part and put together a pair of fancy-sounding ethics committees with long names and conducted an investigation headed by a real live American prosecutor. Sure, Russia wouldn’t let Garcia into the country. Sure, Garcia didn’t have the ability to seize emails or telephone call logs or subpoena witnesses. But that’s neither here nor there. A report exists, its findings have been judged, let’s move on.

Michael Garcia

The results of U.S. attorney Michael Garcia’s two-year investigation into the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bid processes have yet to be made public, but an executive summary of the findings released Friday by the world’s soccer governing body has already drawn Garcia’s ire. (Photo: Stuart Franklin – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

The only problem is Garcia (right), the man who authored the report and advocated for its full release with redactions where necessary, strongly disagrees with Eckert’s findings. The American said today he believes the summary “contains numerous materially incomplete and erroneous representations of the facts and conclusions.”

Soon after Garcia’s repudiation of FIFA’s jolly little commentary on his internal, unpublished report, Twitter predictably exploded in acrimony over the affair. “Farcical.” “Ridiculous.” “Whitewash.” Perhaps it is all those things, but we don’t know for certain because we can’t see the Garcia report and we likely never will. Even if we could, it would be with the proviso that the lead investigator put together his report, in his words, on the “honor system.”

And on and on and on it goes.

Let me be the first to say, this is all incredibly exhausting. Exhausting to keep track of various newspaper investigations into corruption allegations, from the Times of London’s massive expose on Qatar’s alleged World Cup bid shenanigans last June to the New York Daily News’ recent look into former FIFA ExCo member Chuck Blazer’s co-operation with the FBI in a bid to uncover FIFA corruption – two major stories released in only the last four months. Exhausting to put these in context of FIFA’s sordid history of corruption involving a whole host of various enterprises stretching back decades — FIFA presidential elections, World Cup bids, TV rights bids, etc., etc. — involving several now-disgraced former FIFA executive committee members, envelopes full of cash dropped at governance meetings, illegal ticket schemes, gold watches, expensive junkets. It’s exhausting following FIFA’s trail of denials and diversions and dodges, exhausting remembering the names of former ethics advisors, like Alexandra Wrange, who quit last year in frustration when their recommendations were watered down. It’s exhausting to see this all happen and have literally nothing substantially change as a result.

Whenever one of the tips of these massive icebergs reaches the surface via the media, FIFA’s countless critics from the world over gather together in a cathartic chorus on social media and try to out-outrage each other. That generates some noise for a few days, a week at the most, until the endless, nearly incomprehensible story of FIFA’s myriad misdemeanors disappears under the surface of the news cycle. When it’s all over, FIFA remains as intractable as ever.FBL-WC2014-WC2022-FIFA-RIGHTS-QAT-BRA

Photo by MICHAEL BUHOLZER/AFP/Getty Images

Perhaps the time has come for aggrieved soccer fans to admit they are at an impasse. It is clear that FIFA is not, nor will ever truly be, transparent and accountable in the true sense of the words. Even the ultimate Andrew Jennings dream scenario of the FBI subpoenaing the entire Executive Committee to the United States would do little to threaten the status quo. Hopes for the election of a FIFA reformer as president are naive at best, as many of the voting members would not benefit from a more open and accountable governing body.

Even so, some believe there remain a few highly unlikely scenarios that could truly threaten the center of power in Zurich. For example, a decision by a group of FAs to suspend their ties with FIFA indefinitely with all the consequences that would entail, or a unanimous pullout by FIFA’s leading World Cup sponsors in protest.

Yet these groups could argue that despite their disappointment in Eckert’s conclusions, taking those drastic actions would require an extraordinary leap of faith. After all, we don’t know the contents of the Garcia report, and even if we did, it was already hampered at the start by the lack of legal powers available to the former U.S. attorney.

Yet that fact alone — FIFA’s intrinsic lack of transparency and accountability, and its extreme reluctance to address it — is the fundamental problem, not any one of the seemingly endless instances of inevitable and recurring corruption by those within its ranks. Qatar, Bin Hammam, Warner, ISL — these are symptoms of the same fundamental disease. It doesn’t matter if there’s a smoking gun so long as the conditions for corruption exist and FIFA fail to address them.

Those few organizations with the power to force a change — FIFA’s sponsors and concerned FAs — knew this ages ago and failed to act. They still fail to act today. Now they can only look on with the rest of us as FIFA beats the non-existent rap yet again.