Fifa in a funk over BBC show

MUMBAI: Even as the football World Cup gathers momentum in Germany, football's governing body Fifa is in a funk over a BBC Panorama show which aired in the UK a few days ago.

The report was called The Beautiful Bung – Corruption and the World Cup. Veteran reporter Andrew Jennings revealed the serious allegations and evidence that triggered a major investigation by the Swiss authorities. The report had shown serious allegations of bungs, sleaze and vote-rigging by some of the men running the World Cup.

In the programme, Jennings was pushed by a Fifa vice president for asking him how much profit he plans to make from selling World Cup tickets this year. Then he was banned from Fifa headquarters for asking president Sepp Blatter on what he knows about kickbacks to senior officials from a company seeking lucrative contracts.

The programme revealed that over a million pounds worth of bribes have secretly been repaid. Not by the officials who received the kickbacks, but, according to a secret court judgement, by Fifa itself. Magistrate Hildbrand must decide if this act went against Swiss law. If it did, some of the most senior Fifa officials could face jail.

Fifa has issued a statement stating that it takes exception to certain allegations in Panorama. This does not mean that any of the other points raised are acceptable to Fifa as the truth. Fifa notes that as confirmed by the relevant authorities, it is completely false and defamatory to claim that either Blatter or Fifa are the subject of a bribery probe by the Swiss police. Fifa says that in the past, it was actually the victim of ISL irregularities. On the BBC show, a senior executive from ISL, the former marketing company that paid the bribes, had spoken anonymously to Jennings, revealing that 'bungs' were paid systematically, frequently through offshore bank accounts, over a 20-year period.

ISL was set up in 1982 and soon acquired the marketing and television rights to the Olympic Games, the World athletics championships and the football World Cup. Media reports indicate that rumours have circulated for years that senior sports officials took bribes in return for these lucrative contracts. ISL collapsed in 2001 and when the liquidator took over the company's bank records, he found evidence of bribes.

Some officials repaid the money but when others declined, the liquidator went to court. The result was a secret deal in early 2004 to repay more. Fifa says that it looks forward to the final proceedings in the Swiss courts, which it continues to support. During his investigation for the BBC, Jennings travelled from the Swiss Alps to the beaches of the Caribbean.

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