No more ‘corruption’ in FIFA


Although FIFA’s new code of ethics has done away with the word “corruption”, that’s not how corruption is eradicated. It needs a transparent environment that has honest people working for the good of the game.

Up until 2015, FIFA was synonymous with vote buying, bribery, and other shady dealings, culminating in US prosecutors indicting dozens of football officials and entities for corruption, and the toppling of the 17-year czar of football’s world governing body Sepp Blatter.

Blatter’s successor Gianni Infantino has done an admirable job of cleaning up the Zurich-based organization, however, he must keep his eyes wide open because football is a billion-dollar industry and wherever there is that kind of money, there will always be unscrupulous individuals seeking an illegal piece of the pie.

FIFA has given no reason why corruption was scrubbed from its documents as an official misdemeanor. Perhaps the word had become so intertwined with FIFA and the wave of scandals that engulfed it that its executives thought it would be best to expunge it in its revamped code of ethics. The code was first introduced in 2004 by Blatter, but ironically it was the code that ended up getting him expelled from the FIFA presidency for financial misconduct.

That ethics code provided a veneer of probity for an organization abused by so many for personal gain for decades. The new code should be vastly stricter and more serious but it does raise its own set of questions. For example, a new offense has been introduced in the ethics code — defamation. Those found to have defamed FIFA will be banned from any football-related activities for up to two years and can be booted out for five years for repeated “serious cases.”

Defamation is a slippery slope and the red line can be blurry. Defamation is saying or writing something about another person that hurts his or her reputation. In order to be defamatory, a statement has to claim to be a fact instead of an opinion. But, a fact by a detractor of FIFA might be challenged by the organization, or a fact, mixed with some opinion criticizing FIFA, could be construed as defamatory. This will have a chilling effect on critics.

Bribery is still prohibited in the new code, but investigators will only have a decade to uncover it. The 2012 code said “prosecution for bribery and corruption” was not subject to a “limitation period.” So, however long it took investigators to uncover offenses, you could still be sanctioned. Additionally, the code now states that ethics prosecutors have five years to complete cases into other general breaches of the code — half the previous time permitted to uncover wrongdoing. The message to soccer officials seeking to profit from bribery and fraud: As long as the misdemeanor is not discovered for 10 years you will be in the clear at FIFA.

The new code allows the lead ethics prosecutor to enter into plea bargains to resolve cases that do not involve bribery, misappropriation of funds or match fixing. But that could enter the world of murkiness and secrecy.

Under Blatter, FIFA, which is responsible for promoting and protecting the sport, did more damage to the reputation of the game than any other organization or individual. Not everyone in FIFA is corrupt. But there is a culture of corruption within FIFA and that means that just replacing Blatter was not necessarily enough.

After Blatter, FIFA needed a major reboot. Its new leadership vowed to regain trust after the years of scandal. But just one month after FIFA hailed Russia’s World Cup, it has not taken long for the governing body to face yet more scrutiny. Soccer’s resolve to kick out the crooks does not end simply because the very word corruption has been purged.