This is not because senior directors were not guilty of taking bribes, just that the illicit payments they received from the former FIFA marketing partner could not have been classified either under the ethics code or Swiss law at the time as bribes.
The report was published this morning, after being submitted by German ethics justice Eckert to the members of the executive committee and president Sepp Blatter who is cleared of misconduct during his term of office as general secretary in the 1980s and 1990s.
That leaves open the issue of whether Blatter should be held accountable for not maintaining a tighter grip over events occurring ‘on his watch.’
One immediate consequence of publication has been the resignation of veteran Brazilian Joao Havelange from his role as honorary president of FIFA. Havelange, one of a number of senior officials who accepted illicit payments from ISL, had been elevated to ‘honorary’ status after his retirement from the executive presidency in 1998.
Havelange, who was FIFA president from 1974 to 1998, and his former son-in-law Ricardo Teixeira received tens of millions of dollars in improper payments before ISL collapsed into bankrupcy 2001.
Blatter, rushing out his own comment with the report ink barely dry, said: ““I have taken note of the report from the chairman of the adjudicatory chamber of the FIFA Ethics Committee, Hans-Joachim Eckert, regarding the examination of the ISL case. I note in particular that, in his conclusions, chairman Eckert states that ‘the ISL case is concluded for the ethics committee’ and that ‘no further proceedings related to the ISL matter are warranted against any other football official.’
“I also note with satisfaction that this report confirms that ‘president Blatter’s conduct could not be classified in any way as misconduct with regard to any ethics rules’.
“I have no doubt that FIFA, thanks to the governance reform process that I proposed, now has the mechanisms and means to ensure that such an issue – which has caused untold damage to the reputation of our institution – does not happen again.”
ISL was created during the 1982 World Cup by Adidas scion Horst Dassler to command all FIFA’s commercial and broadcasting rights business. After his early death in 1987 ISL went off the rails and wasted millions on other sports in a bid to reduce its dependency on football.
Its collapse in 2001 led, drip by drip, to revelations of millions of pounds/dollars/Swiss francs siphoned off by greedy sports officials who were then unencumbered by either sports administration rules or Swiss laws on accountability.
Names to have emerged included not only that of Havelange but his former son-in-law and Brazilian federation supremo Ricardo Teixeira, CONMEBOL and CAF leaders Nicolas Leoz and Issa Hayatou as well as international athletics chief Lamine Diack.
Hayatou and Diack have been rapped over the knuckles by the International Olympic Committee while Havelange quit the IOC to avoid the embarrassment of similar sanction or worse. Last week Leoz announced he was standing down as president of CONMEBOL and as a FIFA exco member on grounds of health.
Eckert’s report describes as “clumsy” Blatter’s handling of SwF1.5m fee which was sent to FIFA by mistake, rather than directly to Havelange, but there was no evidence that he received “commissions” or hidden kickbacks. However there was a serious issue over whether he should have known of the bribes to others.
Havelange and Teixeira are savaged as “morally and ethically reproachable” though payments to Havelange, Teixeira and Leoz were not crimes at the time under Swiss law though now they would be classified as bribes.
The ISL report comes on top of a bad two weeks for FIFA with a senior adviser quitting the reform process in frustration at a lack of progress and then revelations about former vice-president Jack Warner’s benefits from FIFA monies in the Caribbean.