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TWO of the most powerful men in sport this weekend face serious charges of nepotism and cronyism. They are Juan Antonio Samaranch, president of the International Olympic Committee, and Sepp Blatter, president of FIFA. And the reaction of the two speaks volumes for their organisations.

Samaranch seemed bewildered yesterday when told that the world had seen his decision to nominate his son as his successor on the Olympic Committee as nepotism.

“It is not very important,” said Samaranch. “I am proposing him as a member not as president, he can be a very good member of the IOC.”

Samaranch then listed nine instances of a son or daughter succeeding a father, dating back to 1948 when the American, William May Garland, was succeeded by John Jewett Garland. The list also included Nora of Liechtenstein succeeding her father, Franz Joseph II, and Prince Albert of Monaco his father, Prince Rainier.

In another dig at the Americans, who have been very critical, he said in a reference to the election of George W Bush: “To have a son succeed a father, in the US you have many examples.”

Yet what Samaranch has done is unique. He is the first retiring IOC president to nominate his son in his place. Also, the denial further exposes the failure of international sports to develop the sort of ethical standards common in major corporate organisations.

Blatter has denied allegations in Die Weltwoche, a Swiss-German newspaper, that he tried to keep the bankrupt ISL, the sports marketing company acting as FIFA’s agent, alive because of a relationship with Marie Weber, chairman of ISL. The newspaper alleged that a well-known lawyer recently visited FIFA headquarters and threatened to publish some facts concerning Blatter and Weber if Blatter stooped to supporting ISL.

Blatter denies any such links with Weber, while Guido Tognoni, Blatter’s adviser on television and marketing, denies that Blatter tried to prevent ISL going bankrupt. Tognoni told me: “Blatter was the hardliner on this. It was the emergency committee of FIFA that wanted to save ISL. They did so because they feared that should an administrator take charge of ISL then he will also be in charge of FIFA assets and this will become part of the bankruptcy.

“Also, because of our 20-year relationship, FIFA, for moral reasons, did not want to stick in the knife. Of course Blatter knows ISL people and if you know them for 20 years it is not a superficial business relationship. But there isn’t anything wrong in the relationship.”

That may be so. But Blatter appears to have panicked in the last month as ISL have gone bankrupt. Nothing symbolises this more than hiring Tognoni. In 1994, after the USA World Cup, Blatter sacked Tognoni, who was FIFA media spokesman. Tognoni moved to UEFA where he was in charge of Lennart Johansson’s campaign against Blatter for the FIFA presidency in 1998.

Last summer, Tognoni left UEFA to return to journalism. But when the ISL crisis broke, Blatter, unnerved, rang to ask Johansson whether he would advise him to hire Tognoni. Johansson said yes and Blatter has brought him back, hoping his skills can present a good case for a wretched situation in which FIFA could lose $200 million.

BLATTER might never have been president but for England. The FA cost Johansson the FIFA presidency, according to Johansson.

Johansson lost to Blatter by 31 votes and this week in Dortmund told me: “When Graham Kelly went on television and said ‘We have changed our minds and decided to vote for Blatter’ it sent a message through the entire English-speaking world. It cost me 20 votes. Twenty votes less for me, 20 votes more for Blatter.”

Johansson also told me of the occasion last summer when he went to Downing Street just before FIFA voted to give Germany the 2006 World Cup, with England’s bid eliminated in the second round. Johansson said: “I went with my UEFA executive to Downing Street. The Prime Minister turned to me and said, `I hope you are going to vote for England’. I said, `Prime Minister, there is a gentleman’s agreement between England and Germany that England must support Germany for 2006′.”

The FA justified changing their minds on voting for Johansson by saying that Blatter would help England’s bid for the 2006 World Cup. The existence of the gentleman’s agreement, hotly disputed by the English bid committee, haunted England’s bid and in the end scuppered it.

© Mihir Bose

      

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