Andrew Warshaw: The (broken?) promises of confidentiality

Publish Michael Garcia’s report or be damned. The clarion call to FIFA from a collective raft of influential football powerbrokers, anti-corruption watchdogs and vast swathes of the media intensifies on an almost daily basis.

Only by opening up Garcia’s comprehensive file into possible wrongdoing during the 2018 and 2022 bid process to public scrutiny, the argument goes, can Sepp Blatter and his organisation finally throw off the lingering accusations of corruption that have swirled around FIFA for years. Grabbing the opportunity to shake off a tainted past is one that shouldn’t be missed.

If those interviewed by Garcia during his investigation have nothing to hide – most notably all nine bid committees and the FIFA exco members who voted in the December, 2010 ballot – what is the problem? Surely by naming names and exposing any malpractise that many, including some within FIFA’s inner sanctum, have suspected, FIFA will enhance its battered credibility and show that much called-for transparency.

All of these points are, in one way, totally valid. No-one who has followed the workings of FIFA over the years could deny that efforts to clean up its act have not gone far enough – yet. Publication of Garcia’s report would probably go a long way to changing public perceptions.

But it’s just not as simple as that. As Garcia himself should know full well judging by inside information that has come to Insideworldfootball’s attention.

Let me explain. As the case for publication reached a crescendo at back-to-back conferences in London this week, this website received intelligence from two high-ranking bid officials – one who took part in the 2018 campaign, the other involved in 2022 – that poses serious questions about why Garcia is suddenly so adamant that his evidence be made public while his fellow ethics committee colleague, adjudicatory chamber chief Hans-Joachim Eckert, takes the opposite view and is so determined to maintain strict confidentiality rules.

According to both of the bid committee officials who came forward – and this presumably applies to the other seven bidding nations – Garcia specifically told witnesses when he interviewed them that their information would remain confidential. In other words, that it would NOT be published.

Indeed, Insideworldfootball has been further told that written correspondence from Garcia’s office stated that “this interview is confidential and by the same token we would ask that you do not share the contents of this interview.”

Interesting, eh? Which bits could possibly be made public if Garcia himself promised confidentiality? It’s a grey area that is becoming more and more opaque. One argument expressed is that a redacted version of the 430-report could be issued instead of a full one. Can you imagine all the intriguing guesswork if we got something like “witness X said country Y had offered incentives in exchange for votes”. That would simply fuel calls for proper identification and send the rumour mill into overdrive.

Intriguingly, it has also been learned that prior warning was promised to at least some of the 75 witnesses, in the shape of a legal letter, if anything in the report was going to be made public. Which again makes demands for publication difficult to resolve.

Just listen to Belgium’s Michel d’Hooghe, one of FIFA’s longest-serving executive committee members who is rarely afraid to speak his mind and is uncomfortable with the pressure being brought to bear on FIFA by those exco members – including three vice-presidents – who didn’t vote four years ago yet have strongly spoken out in favour of exposure.

Making an exception to the current regulations by lifting secrecy restrictions is simply not on, says d’Hooghe.

“If you go against the rules of the ethical committee, you could have big problems,” the highly respected Belgian told me. “Personally I have no problem with the report being published. The problem is, from a professional standpoint, you have to respect the ethical code.”

With the old guard at FIFA heavily criticised for remaining silent, what came next from d’Hooghe’s lips was particularly telling and should be noted by all those who have voiced an opinion one way or the other.

“It’s a surprise for me that Garcia has said what he’s said. Why? Because the first thing he said to all of us, to all my colleagues on the executive committee, was ‘may I ask you to keep everything confidential.’ I swear you that. He also asked us not to discuss it with anyone outside.”

In other words, exactly the same thing Garcia apparently said to members of bid committees.

So where do we go from here? According to FIFA’s marketing chief Thierry Weil, we wait until Eckert delivers his findings and recommends possible verdicts. That could happen in November or next spring. Then and only then, argued Weil during a podium session at the Leaders in Sport Business summit this week, can FIFA be fairly judged.

Seems a reasonably fair assessment. The big question, of course, is how far Eckert, once he has waded through Garcia’s file, will go without breaking his committee’s own strict code.

If the feeling in the outside world is that he hasn’t gone far enough, then the global outcry for greater transparency will continue. It’s a classic Catch-22 but rules are rules and until and unless they are changed, there may never be a satisfactory resolution.

Andrew Warshaw was formerly Sports Editor of The European newspaper and is chief correspondent of Insideworldfootball. Contact him at moc.l1696170531labto1696170531ofdlr1696170531owdis1696170531ni@wa1696170531hsraw1696170531.werd1696170531na1696170531