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Home » Sport » Football

One of FIFA's Own Speaks Out

In almost four decades, first under the rule of the Brazilian João Havelange and then his successor, Sepp Blatter, the world governing body of soccer, FIFA, has grown rich, powerful and corrupt.

Journalists have said it. A few administrators, like the former FIFA general secretary, Michel Zen-Ruffinen, were dismissed for saying it. But not until now has a member of the 24-man FIFA executive committee dared to say it.

In “FIFA, More Political than Football,” a 3,000-word passage in a memoir published by Chung Mong-joon, the former FIFA vice president breaks that inner code of silence.

Chung, a billionaire shipbuilding magnate, part of the Hyundai family and a senior member of the South Korean National Assembly, makes it very clear that he would sooner run for president in his homeland than for any FIFA office.

His book, released Tuesday in South Korea, refers to Blatter as “an articulate and intelligent man, but more like an impetuous child than a gentleman.”

More than that, Chung writes: “The executive committee is meant to provide checks and balances when its president goes beyond his authority and mandate. Blatter is trying to take away the power of the executive committee and thereby neutralize any efforts to check his power.”

He adds: “A lot of dictators on this planet have used similar methods.”

Around this time last year, Chung, at that time one of FIFA’s senior vice presidents, was bidding to take the World Cup to South Korea for the second time in his 17-year involvement with the sport.

He was asked in London if he might challenge Blatter for the presidency. He said he was considering it.

Shortly after that, South Korea lost the 2022 World Cup bid to Qatar. And in the new year, Chung lost his seat as one of Asia’s representatives on the FIFA hierarchy.

Mohamed bin Hammam of Qatar became the only contender for Blatter’s crown.

That vote never took place. On the eve of the election, Bin Hammam and Jack Warner, longtime personal friends of Blatter’s who had helped his rise to power, were accused of offering $40,000 bribes to members of Warner’s Caribbean constituency to vote for bin Hammam.

Warner resigned, complaining that the FIFA ethics panel set to consider the evidence was a court of hypocrites because, he said, gifts were part and parcel of the FIFA culture.

Bin Hammam was found guilty by the FIFA ethics panel and banned from any soccer activity for life. The Qatari called the panel a kangaroo court doing Blatter’s bidding and said he would go to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland, to prove his innocence. On Tuesday, he claimed FIFA never would have convicted and banned him if he were European.

But Hammam, Warner and Chung are out. Blatter remains, in his 13th year as FIFA president.

Blatter says that in October, he will present his reforms for a cleaner, transparent FIFA after the corruption that the news media exposed during the World Cup bidding process last December. He invited, without consulting his executive committee, the U.S. diplomat Henry A. Kissinger, the Spanish singer Plácido Domingo and the retired soccer player Johan Cruyff to help him find solutions to clean up FIFA’s image.

Kissinger appeared to be flattered to be asked. But long ago, while leading an American bid to stage the 1986 World Cup, Kissinger, the secretary of state under Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford, was reported to have said: “The politics of FIFA, they make me nostalgic for the Middle East.”

What Kissinger found then was that FIFA, under Havelange as president and with Blatter as general secretary, was anything but transparent in its dealings with billion-dollar bids for its global tournament.

The U.S. bid was undermined by a deal for television rights that Havelange had already promised to Mexico, which was awarded the 1986 tournament.

Chung, of course, came into FIFA politics much later. He entered with the express aim of securing the 2002 World Cup hosting rights for South Korea — and won a share of that tournament despite the fact that Japan, the eventual co-host, had been promised the event in advance.

Several members of the FIFA executive committee then entertained friends with the story of this comparatively young South Korean, Chung, doing what few of them ever did. He questioned the president. He asked, publicly, that relevant financial matters underpinning FIFA business be disclosed to the committee.

“The president was in a state of heightened anger,” one committee member said at the time, on condition of anonymity. “Havelange was pounding the table, demanding to know what Chung meant by speaking outside the chamber.”

When Blatter became president, Chung once more asked a question during a committee meeting. He said the president was entitled to compensation for his time, but what exactly was Blatter’s salary?

Chung writes in his memoir of a fellow executive committee member’s intervening to say that the president’s salary was none of the members’ business.

More serious are Chung’s observations of a trial in a New York court over FIFA’s breaking of a contract with MasterCard in favor of Visa, its credit card rival. “In a ruling full of contempt for FIFA,” writes Chung, “the presiding judge mentioned the word ‘lie’ 13 times in reference to FIFA.”

FIFA later paid MasterCard $90 million to settle the dispute. “Blatter shifted all the responsibility to Jérôme Valcke, then marketing director,” Chung writes. “Six months later, he not only reinstated Valcke, but also promoted him to general secretary. This only reinforced the suspicion that Blatter himself and Valcke were behind the whole thing.”

On the eve of the next meeting, he asked fellow members’ thoughts. “Most tried to avoid the subject,” he recalls. “On the day of the meeting, Blatter mentioned it only briefly, saying it was handled well and done with.

“I raised my hand, the atmosphere inside the room suddenly chilled. I opened my remarks by saying it was not simply a matter of money, it was serious that FIFA sustained such a great financial loss, but worse was the damage to the credibility and reputation of FIFA.”

Not for the first or the last time, Chung felt isolated. He now regrets that he did not do more, fearing that other members regarded him as being too persistent in questioning their leader.

“I am currently an honorary vice president of FIFA,” Chung concludes. “I am quite disappointed that FIFA is not run in a transparent and fair manner. I look back to see whether I had done my part.”


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