FIFA's top lawyer quits amid ongoing ethics storm
Football body’s lead investigator resigns, blaming deficiencies of Sepp Blatter’s leadership
Management integrity at world football’s governing body FIFA has been called into question yet again, after the organisation’s independent ethics investigator Michael Garcia resigned in protest over the handling of his report into bidding for World Cups 2018 and 2022. The American lawyer left his role yesterday citing a “lack of leadership” at the body, following FIFA’s move to reject his appeal against Ethics Committee colleague Hans-Joachim Eckert’s sketchy summary of Garcia’s report.
Garcia deemed the 42-page short version of his 430-page report unacceptable, on the grounds that “when viewed in the context of the report it purported to summarise, no principled approach could justify [Eckert’s] edits, omissions, and additions”.
Ever since Russia and Qatar were unexpectedly handed rights to host the 2018 and 2022 tournaments, rumours of corruption have swirled around FIFA’s voting process. To address them, Blatter turned the subject over to FIFA’s Ethics Committee, consisting of two chambers – with Garcia heading the investigatory arm, and Eckert overseeing the adjudicatory chamber. Completed after 18 months at a cost of £6million, the investigation took place under an agreement that the identity of all 75-plus witnesses would be kept anonymous and only “the terms of the decision” would be made public.
While the summary appeared to quash the rumours, there was widespread criticism over FIFA’s decision to release the material selectively. Garcia – a former attorney for the Southern District of New York – sought to regain his reputation by appealing for the full document to be released, with pages redacted to preserve the anonymity clause. However, his appeal was rejected on procedural grounds, with the Appeals Committee ruling that Eckert’s summary was merely his opinion of the report – not a judgement. As such, under FIFA rules, there was nothing to appeal against. Garcia noted that the FIFA Executive Committee had threatened to put him in front of the body’s disciplinary board in September in the light of his request.
Significantly, Garcia refused to take his challenge to quasi-judicial body the Court of Arbitration for Sport because he didn’t believe it “can change the culture of an organisation”. In a managerial sense, that strongly indicates endemic ethics problems within FIFA’s structure.
As Garcia explained: “It is the lack of leadership on these issues within FIFA that leads me to conclude that my role in this process is at an end.”
Whistleblower Bonita Mersiades – who had campaigned for Australia to receive the 2022 World Cup – welcomed Garcia’s resignation as an important step in flagging up deficiencies within football’s biggest watchdog. “He joins Judge Günter Hirsch who resigned from the previous ethics committee on similar grounds three years ago,” she said. “I also welcome the fact that Mike Garcia agrees with what many of us have long stated: that Fifa is incapable of reform or cultural change with its current leadership.”
Blatter, meanwhile, said: “I am surprised by Mr Garcia’s decision. The work of the ethics committee will nonetheless continue.”
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