What’s good for the goose, as the old saying goes, is good for the gander. When former FIFA vice-president Chung Mong-joon entered the presidential race earlier this week by casting aspertions on both on his rival Michel Platini and the outgoing Sepp Blatter, he must have realised reaction to his comments would be swift.
Mud-slinging works both ways and Chung needs all the help he can get, just as Prince Ali bin al-Hussein did last time, if he is to succeed in his unlikely comeback bid next February. Particularly since, also like Prince Ali, he doesn’t have the backing of his own confederation. Not on paper at least.
Which made his verbal onslaught (unaccompanied by any manifesto) all the more surprising, unleashing as it did an angry response from Blatter – Platini has so far kept his own powder dry – about the wisdom, or lack of it, of personal attacks.
Amid the tit-for-tat exchanges, Chung’s remarks rekindled questions about so-called “charitable donations” he made to Pakistan and Haiti, payments he insists were totally above board. He says he had been donating money to good causes at home and abroad since the 1990s and made a point of accusing those who cited such donations as being part of a FIFA ethics investigation as indulging in malicious point-scoring.
“Recent media reports allege that FIFA has started an investigation into FIFA Honorary Vice President Dr. Chung Mong-Joon’s 2010 donations to disaster relief funds to Haiti and Pakistan,” said Chung’s statement. “If these reports are true, we condemn this as a cynical and unethical effort by FIFA to misrepresent even charitable donations for political manipulation.”
Strong words indeed but is Chung actually as clean as he would like everyone to believe?
On the advice of certain high-ranking sources, I have revisited the 42-page summary of Michael Garcia’s notorious 430-page dossier into the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bid process and potential corruption at FIFA.
The summary, if you remember, was compiled and made public several months ago by FIFA’s ethics judge Hans-Joachim Eckert and, as we know, effectively cleared Russia and Qatar of any malpractise. But on page 25 there is a direct reference to the South Korean bid that had nothing to do with any specific donations made by Chung to any specific nations but focussed on potentially far more damaging activities which appeared to at least throw into question Chung’s conduct and which, because of all the paranoia about Russia and Qatar at the time, slipped through the net of media scrutiny.
Under the heading entitled “Findings Regarding the Korea 2022 Bid”, Eckert’s summary cites “several letters” sent by Chung “in late 2010” (in other words around the time of the World Cup vote) to FIFA executive committee members about a proposal to establish a “Global Football Fund.”
According to those letters, says Eckert, Korea intended to raise $777 million from 2011 to 2022 “to aid Confederations and member associations to build new football infrastructure and renovate existing facilities.”
“The Fund should also be used to support human resource development programs for the training of coaches, administrators, and players etc. The fund should be distributed to the respective continents and be left to each Confederation to administer for concrete development projects.”
Then comes Eckert’s most telling reference to the Garcia report as far as Chung and South Korea are concerned.
“While the fund has not been mentioned in the official bid documents submitted by Korea 2022, the bid team highlighted the proposal to contribute USD 777 million to football development during its oral presentation of the bid the day before the December 2, 2010 FIFA Executive Committee vote. Moreover, Dr. Chung’s close association with Korea’s bid, both in fact and in the perception of others, was beyond any doubt.”
“In the light of this, the Report concludes that the Global Football Fund letters created at least the appearance of a conflict or an offer of benefits to FIFA Executive Committee members in an effort to influence their votes.
According to the findings contained in the Report regarding the Korea 2022 bid, there are certain indications of potentially problematic conduct of specific individuals in the light of relevant FIFA Ethics rules. The Chairman of the Adjudicatory Chamber of the FIFA Ethics Committee trusts that the Investigatory Chamber will take appropriate steps if it deems such measures appropriate and feasible.”
No-one at FIFA is saying whether an investigation has or hasn’t been initiated as a result of these remarks, verging on a recommendation. But what cannot be disputed is that Chung’s global fund proposal, largely ignored hitherto in western media coverage of the 2018 and 2022 issue, was – and maybe still is – the subject of considerable interest to FIFA’s ethics committee and went further than the odd donation to the odd country.
The bigger picture, of course, concerns the twin Swiss and US probes that have cast a shadow over the entire electoral process. Although FIFA’s members won’t vote on Blatter’s successor until February 26, candidates have to throw their hats in the ring by October 26. It would be understandable if prospective candidates were uncomfortable about committing themselves while the investigations develop.
For his part, having entered the fray, Chung clearly feels he has little to fear. Indeed, he recently supported the idea of a full investigation. But as we have seen with other figures of supposedly high repute, it doesn’t necessarily pay to promote oneself, in the current climate, as a paragon of virtue and integrity. Skeletons invariably emerge from cupboards. Which is why this particular election campaign is a scary process like no other.
Andrew Warshaw was formerly Sports Editor of The European newspaper and is chief correspondent of Insideworldfootball. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org