Fifa and other authorities fail to protect whistleblowers

Garcia report and Lou Vincent case show how sport fails to encourage disclosure

The Fifa World Cup was one of the sporting highlights of 2014. Off the field, however, it has been an annus horribilis for football's world governing body. Fifa has been dogged throughout by controversy relating to the award of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar.

As the year ends, that controversy has further morphed into farce. On September 5th, Fifa's independent ethics investigator, Michael Garcia, presented the organisation with a detailed 430-page report on the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 Cups. Fifa declined to publish it in full but a week later its ethics "judge", Hans-Joachim Eckert, released a 42-page summary of the Garcia report.

In a series of Kafkaesque twists, an internal complaint by Garcia – in essence, an appeal against the misrepresentation of his report – was dismissed as “inadmissible” by Fifa’s appeals committee, thus prompting Garcia’s resignation.

The same appeals committee that rejected Garcia’s complaint, also dismissed claims by two whistleblowers that the Eckert summary had breached the condition of anonymity under which they had agreed to co-operate with Garcia and give him intelligence on alleged corruption in both bidding processes.

Both Phaedra Almajid and Bonita Mersiades, who worked on Qatar and Australia’s 2022 World Cup bids respectively complained that, although the summary had not named them and some redactions had taken place, a clear inference could still be made as to their identity.

Life in danger

Almajid has subsequently claimed that Fifa’s bungling has put her life in danger. The Eckert summary made it clear that Almajid’s evidence was crucial to Garcia. Garcia’s jurisdiction was limited only to those within the “football family”. Outside of that neither he nor his investigatory team could compel co-operation. This meant that Mohamed bin Hammam, the former Fifa executive who played a controversial role in Qatar’s hosting bid could not be interviewed. Bin Hammam quit football in late 2012, after Fifa issued him with a life ban for conflicts of interests in his executive role.

The Garcia/Eckert debacle has since been considered by Fifa’s Executive Committee. There the farrago continued.

On December 19th, it announced the Garcia report would be published at some point in the future but only in heavily redacted form and mainly because three members of the current Fifa Executive remain under investigation arising from Garcia’s investigation.

Taking a step back from Fifa and its troubles; in many ways, 2014 was the year of the whistleblower.

In July, New Zealand cricketer Lou Vincent admitted match-fixing and received a life ban from all participation in the sport. He then co-operated with anti-corruption officials from both the International Cricket Council and the England and Wales Cricket Board, giving information about spot-fixing.

Around the same time as the Vincent revelations, Emma O'Reilly, the masseuse to Lance Armstrong and his US Postal Service team, launched a memoir, The Race to Truth, based on her experiences during the team's period of Tour de France domination. An interview given by O'Reilly to journalist David Walsh in 2003, was the catalyst for a series of events which led to the United States Anti-Doping Authority's damning report on Armstrong and the stripping of his Tour victories. It also coincided with a sustained period of bullying and harassment of O'Reilly by Armstrong.

Russian athletics

This month a former Russian anti-doping official, Vitaliy Stepanov, provided insight into the extent and nature of doping in Russian sport. Stepanov’s revelations came after the broadcast of a German TV documentary,

Top Secret Doping: How Russia Makes Its Winners

, which claimed systemic doping was occurring in Russian athletics.

The sport’s governing body, the IAAF, already mired in a corruption scandal, has been forced to submit to an inquiry by an independent anti-doping commission set up by the World Anti-Doping Agency.

All of the above disclosures will continue to play out in 2015. More importantly, all of the above, reveal insights into the cultural, institutional and legal perceptions of whistleblowers in sport in general.

Lou Vincent, for instance, co-operated with the cricket authorities but received a life ban. Although sympathy towards Vincent is in short supply in cricket, and many have seen him as opportunistic; what incentive does a life ban give to other cricket players who might consider becoming whistleblowers?

Similarly, the experience of both Fifa whistleblowers is likely to deter others. Both have claimed to have been the victims of competing agendas within the highly politicised world of football administration and including between so-called “colleagues” on Fifa’s ethics commission.

Competing agendas

Emma O’Reilly has similarly claimed in her memoir that her initial disclosures on Lance Armstrong were skewed by the competing agendas of journalists and cycling and sports doping officialdom. Indeed, her memoir is characterised not just by her antipathy to the latter but also, incongruously, by her reconciliation with Armstrong who wrote the foreword to the book.

The journalist to whom O’Reilly first spoke in depth, David Walsh, has recently been a key point of contact for Vitality Stepanov. How the Stepanov revelations are handled will be one of the most interesting sports stories of 2015. His disclosures are important because they underpin a suspicion that some national anti-doping agencies “wear the jersey” and are reluctant to test and prosecute national stars with the due diligence required.

The key lesson from all this is, as highlighted in 2014 by Transparency International, that the lack of uniform international whistleblower guidelines remains a fundamental weakness in protected disclosure facilities throughout sport globally.

Jack Anderson lectures in sports law at Queen’s University, Belfast. @sportslawQUB

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