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Lord Triesman’s testimony in Parliament may not prove to be quite the defining moment for FIFA that the media coverage suggests. Triesman’s statements have been seen as FIFA’s equivalent of the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) Salt Lake City moment. That ended with the IOC cleaning up its act and expelling 10 members.

My worry is that the Triesman intervention could be great theatre but not lead to any real change.

I say this based on having witnessed an even more explosive drama at the IOC’s headquarters in Lausanne back in December 1998. Then a Swiss lawyer who was in his 80s and one of the most senior IOC members, sensationally alleged that the entire Olympic Movement was corrupt.

That day was even more dramatic than Triesman’s appearance in front of the House of Commons Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport.

Yet, in the end, for all the media headlines that the Swiss lawyer, Marc Hodler, generated, it was not what he said that that led to the IOC clean up. That happened because there was hard-proven evidence of corruption which could not be challenged in court. What is more, the IOC had the will to do something about it. On both counts, the jury on FIFA is still out and looks like remaining that way for a long time.

Let us just go back to that Hodler moment.

Like FIFA now, back in 1998, the IOC was suspected of being an organisation where bidding cities could buy favours. Indeed many cities had done so. A few days before the Hodler outburst, KTVX-TV, a television station in Salt Lake City, had revealed that a scholarship had been provided to Sonia Essomba, the daughter of IOC member Rene Essomba from Cameroon, to attend university in Washington. The evidence for this was an unsigned letter from David Johnson, a leading light in the Salt Lake City bid, to Sonia saying that Salt Lake could not continue to fund her.

The letter had emerged as a result of a fall out within the Salt Lake Organising Committee with a faction wanting dirt on Johnson. For a few weeks, it seemed no more than a local story. Winter Games do not attract too much attention and Salt Lake, a Mormon city, was expected to attract even less.

So, when the IOC met for its final Executive meeting of 1998 over that December weekend, the revelation from the Salt Lake television station caused only a few ripples. Juan Antonio Samaranch, IOC President, asked Dick Pound to investigate, but it was not a major story. The IOC itself was more concerned about setting up its proposed World Anti-Doping Agency. Very few journalists were covering the meeting, so routine was it expected to be. I, personally, was there because I happened to be in Lausanne for what was then a much bigger story – UEFA, threatened by a breakaway European league, was forced to completely reshape the Champions League, allowing the big countries like England four places each.

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But then, after the morning session of the IOC Executive had finished on that Saturday, December 11, Hodler (pictured) suddenly came down to the lobby where we journalists were chatting. He started telling us how deeply the IOC was mired in corruption. He had been a keen champion of Salt Lake, he was worried that the 2002 Games might now be taken away from the city. He asserted that corruption was endemic in the Olympic Movement. What is more, he said that the IOC was to blame. “The cities are the victims not the villains.”

We had the feeling that we were hearing hidden secrets that we were not meant to. Holder gave the appearance of a man who had carried this dreadful secret for too long and wanted to unburden himself. For such a senior IOC member, one who had unsuccessfully stood against Samaranch for the IOC Presidency, to say this was sensational. The reaction of the IOC hierarchy added to the drama.

Up on the executive floor, Samaranch could not believe what was going on and orders went out to muzzle Hodler. It led the irate Swiss gesturing as if a muzzle were being put on a dog. This unscripted performance ended with him being led away from the journalists by a top IOC official, Francoise Zweifel, as if Hodler was her old uncle who had lost his way.

However, his intervention meant IOC corruption, long suspected, could no longer be pushed under the carpet. The IOC knew it had to do something and, to its credit, it did. Within months, the Pound Commission found enough evidence to enable the IOC to act.

But this is crucial. The evidence came not from Hodler, but from the documented proof, provided by Salt Lake City, which the guilty IOC members could not contest. Pound, in his memoirs, Inside the Olympics, has described how, when Hodler came before his commission, he could provide no proof. “To our astonishment he had no facts whatsoever and…he had been speaking solely from hearsay,” Pound wrote. “Furthermore, much of the corruption that he was ranting about turned out to relate to the Ski Federation of which he had been President during the entire period that the impugned conduct had apparently occurred.”

Indeed, the Hodler drama was to have a strange sequel. Many of Hodler’s stories concerned wrong-doing by the Agnelli family with Ferraris being given away so Italy could host the World Ski Championships. Reporting the Hodler outburst, one of the doyens of Olympic journalism, the Italian Gianni Merlo, speculated that he was trying to damage Turin’s bid for the 2006 Winter Games and help the Swiss city of Sion. The next day in the IOC lobby, Hodler confronted Merlo and called him names. Merlo successfully sued and collected damages from Hodler.

Triesman’s allegations are more than hearsay. But they are still his word against that of FIFA Executive members and, unlike Hodler, Triesman made the allegations long after he left the Football Association. Had he done so while still leading the England bid, it might have destroyed the bid, but made more of an impact in cleaning up FIFA. He can now be presented as a football failure trying to get his own back as Jack Warner, one of Treisman’s targets, has already claimed.

The other crucial difference with the IOC is that it had to act to protect its business. It was worried that sponsors might walk away. Following the Holder bombshell, Michael Payne, then IOC marketing director, flew to Atlanta to talk to Coke, a sponsor since 1928 and the Amsterdam Games, to make sure they stayed. There was much worry about insurance company John Hancock, whose chief executive David D’Alessandro, said: “If they fail to investigate, the rings will not be tarnished, they will be broken. A failure to do so will cost the IOC its golden aura and the Olympics will become a mere mortal like the NBA and NFL.”

And this is the key to whether something emerges to change FIFA as a result of this latest corruption story. FIFA, unlike the IOC, is a mere sporting mortal. It demonstrated this over the ISL saga. That story of FIFA and the relationship with its former marketing company after nearly a decade has left many unanswered questions. And, with the investigations in Switzerland now concluded, they may never be answered.

During that saga, we did not hear a peep from FIFA’s sponsors. Unlike the IOC, FIFA’s sponsors, which also include Coke, do not, it seems, care about these stories of alleged corruption. FIFA, like the IOC, understands money. If change is to come, then it is the money men who must do the talking. When they do, FIFA will be forced to act.

Not till then.

      

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