Indictment against FIFA Officials

Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 10:28 am on 28th May 2015.

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Photo of Stephen Phillips Stephen Phillips Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham 10:28 am, 28th May 2015

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport if he will make a statement as to the implications for the Football Association and the home nations of the indictment preferred against certain FIFA officials by the Department of Justice in the United States and the criminal proceedings opened by the Attorney General of Switzerland.

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

The arrests that took place in Zurich yesterday, along with the statements released by both the US Department of Justice and the Swiss Attorney General, were shocking in both scale and scope. However, they were also far from surprising. Anyone who has spent time looking at FIFA, as the Culture, Media and Sport Committee did during the previous Parliament, will know that this is merely the latest sorry episode to suggest that FIFA is a deeply flawed and corrupt organisation.

The revelations have shown how important it is for sports bodies to uphold the highest standards of governance, transparency and accountability. That is what we ask and expect of all our domestic sports bodies in the UK. International bodies should be no different. That is particularly true for an organisation such as FIFA, an organisation that should be the guardian of the world’s most popular sport, not one whose members seek to profit personally from the passion of the game’s fans.

I welcome the investigations now under way into the allegations of bribery and corruption, and I fully support the Football Association’s position that significant and wide-ranging reforms are urgently needed at the very top of FIFA, including a change of leadership. I also welcome the statement from UEFA, which has called for a postponement of the election, and the statement from Visa this morning. It is important that other sponsors reflect on their links to FIFA and consider following Visa’s lead. The Minister for sport, my hon. Friend Tracey Crouch, will be writing to her European counterparts later today to set out our concerns and seek their support for change.

Finally, I would like to pay tribute to the insight team of The Sunday Times, without whose investigations many of these allegations may never have come to light. Football is the world’s game, and it is our national game. It is a fundamental part of British life and culture. Yet these revelations have dragged the game’s reputation into the mud. The time has clearly come for a change, and we will offer whatever support is necessary to the Football Association to see that change realised.

Photo of Stephen Phillips Stephen Phillips Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer, and indeed for coming to the House this morning to answer the urgent question. Football, as he says, is our national game. It is the most played and watched sport in the United Kingdom and worldwide. The whole House will share his concerns following the events of yesterday. Under the failed leadership of Sepp Blatter, FIFA has again let down fans across Britain and across the world.

Given that, what discussions is my right hon. Friend having with the home nation associations in relation to the unfolding scandal, which, as is clear from the charges brought against FIFA officials in the United States, reveals a pattern of corruption that has existed over decades? Does he think, as seems obvious to everyone except Sepp Blatter, that the election of a new president of FIFA should not now go ahead this week? What steps will he take in conjunction with the home nations to ensure that the election does not take place and that FIFA has the opportunity to elect a president who can rid it of corruption and lead the organisation though what is undoubtedly the worse scandal in its history? Can he assure football fans across the country that his Department will make reform of FIFA a top priority so that the organisation serves football worldwide and does not exist merely to line the pockets of its officials?

Although I doubt that my right hon. Friend has yet read the 161-page indictment preferred by the US Attorney General, he will know from his work on the Select Committee in the previous Parliament that the English Football Association made an unsuccessful bid for the 2018 World cup, which cost something in the region of £19 million. The bid had the backing of His Royal Highness Prince William of Wales and David Beckham, among others, but it received only two votes. What investigations does he now intend to carry out to examine whether the bid failed due to bribery and corruption on the part of FIFA officials? Will he discuss with the English Football Association the steps that can now be taken to recover the £19 million that was wasted and that could have gone to grassroots community football in this country? Can he say what steps the Government will now take to recover any money they wasted on the failed bid? Does he think, as no doubt many Members do, that the bidding process for hosting the World cup in 2018 and 2022 should now be reopened?

At least some of the criminal behaviour that founds the US indictment and the criminal investigation by the Swiss Attorney General made public yesterday is alleged to have taken place in the United Kingdom. What discussions has my right hon. Friend had overnight with our Attorney General and the Home Secretary as to whether a criminal investigation should be commenced in this country and, if appropriate, charges brought? Given the scale of the corruption revealed by The Sunday Times and by “Panorama” as long ago as 2010, why has no action been taken to date? Can he assure the House that a full criminal investigation of any unlawful behaviour in this country will now be launched?

Finally, given the importance of this issue to the whole country, or at least to those of us who follow the beautiful game, will my right hon. Friend undertake to return to the House next week to update hon. Members on further developments and to ensure that Parliament is kept fully informed of developing events in relation to a corruption scandal that affects something that is at the absolute core of our national life?

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

I thank my hon. and learned Friend for bringing this matter to the House today. I share a lot of the concerns that he has expressed.

On the attitude of the English Football Association and the football associations of the other home nations, I will of course be in touch with them. I hope to speak to Greg Dyke later. I am very pleased that all four football associations from the home nations have taken the same approach in supporting UEFA in calling for a change of leadership and, now, for a postponement of the election that is due to take place tomorrow.

The allegations that are now coming out of the US Attorney General’s indictment have of course been around for a very long time. One of the striking things has been FIFA’s reluctance to carry out any proper, thorough, independent, transparent investigation of them. The Garcia report was not published in full and failed to address some of the most serious allegations. I hope that one of the consequences of these latest moves by the American authorities is that we will now have a proper investigation that will lead to the reforms all of us want. I very much welcome the moves already made by UEFA, and I hope that other football associations will now come behind it, but it is a matter for the English FA and the other associations, in the first instance, as to how they proceed tomorrow and in the days that follow.

My hon. and learned Friend is right that there have been calls in this House for the English authorities, particularly the Serious Fraud Office, to look into the allegations of corruption. We had a debate on that in the previous Parliament led by my hon. Friend Damian Collins, who has also done a tremendous amount in this area. I am sure that that will have been heard and that those allegations are being looked at.

Finally, my hon. and learned Friend asked that I come back and report to the House. As Mr Speaker will be aware, it is DCMS questions next Thursday, and I suspect that this matter may well come up on that occasion.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

I warmly congratulate the Secretary of State on taking up his new responsibilities. There was a time before he was Chair of the Select Committee, but none of us can remember that any more, so we know that we have somebody who knows his onions on these matters. I join him in the tribute that he made to The Sunday Times and that Stephen Phillips made to “Panorama”. Some of this would not be coming out now had it not been for that investigative journalism.

Yesterday the whole world saw that beneath the mask the beautiful game has a very, very ugly face. Can anyone be in any doubt at all that FIFA is rotten to the core and needs swift and wholesale reform? What is particularly galling is that the value of the World cup is not created by FIFA but by the many millions of loyal fans around the world. Football belongs to the mums and dads taking their children to their first match and to the youngsters lining their bedroom walls with posters, not to the fat cats who have creamed off millions of pounds for themselves. Is it not inconceivable that Sepp Blatter should continue in post now that his own election as president in 2011 is under investigation by the Swiss authorities?

What investigations have been undertaken in this country into whether British nationals and British banks have been involved? Is the Secretary of State absolutely confident that British authorities have not been rather reluctant to investigate seriously? Is it not a bit embarrassing that it has ended up being the Swiss and the Americans who are bringing this to light rather than the British? Is he absolutely confident that no licence fee money has found its way into corrupt hands? Did any of the sponsors who are now, very reluctantly, raising their voices knowingly provide money that was used for a bribe?

Does the Secretary of State share our concerns about the 2022 World cup? Matches will be played indoors in temperatures exceeding 40° C. Hundreds of workers have already died building the stadiums—an estimated 62 per match that will be played. Human rights are systematically being abused. Should not Qatar immediately suspend its kafala visa system for migrants working on the stadiums and improve all workers’ conditions? What representations have the Government made to Qatar on the detention of BBC journalists investigating human rights abuses there?

Now that Visa, McDonald’s, Budweiser, Coca-Cola, Adidas, Hyundai and UEFA have all finally raised major concerns about the 2018 and 2022 competitions, should not the bidding rounds be reopened? If not, is it not time for the major football associations of the world to consider creating alternative competitions for those dates?

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

I thank the hon. Gentleman very much for his kind words. I am not sure that he will have endeared himself to the Father of the House, who was my distinguished predecessor as Chairman of the Select Committee, but I am grateful to him for his remarks.

I cannot promise that we will always be in complete agreement when we debate matters on the Floor of the House. However, on this occasion I share a lot of the concerns that the hon. Gentleman expressed. In particular, I agree with him that a change in leadership of FIFA is very badly needed. I want to pay tribute to the FA, particularly David Bernstein, Greg Dyke’s predecessor, who first called for that change and indeed supported alternative candidates. As I mentioned earlier, all four home nations are supporting the candidacy of Prince Ali.

The investigation in this country is a matter for the Serious Fraud Office, as I have said, but I have no doubt that it heard the calls made in the last Parliament for an investigation and that it will look closely to see whether any laws have been broken in this country. I share the hon. Gentleman’s concern about the £15 million put up for the England bid for 2018. It is too soon to say that the competition should be rerun, but we will wait to see what the outcomes of the criminal investigations are and whether there has been serious malpractice. A lot of very serious allegations have been made, and we now need a proper investigation into them.

On the specific points that the hon. Gentleman made about Qatar, I welcome the fact that the Qatari Government have now brought in a workers charter. I hope that it will lead to an improvement in the condition of migrant workers, but we are obviously concerned about the reports of exploitation. I was also very concerned about the detainment of the BBC journalists, which appeared to be an infringement of freedom of the press. As I said, this is an area where the freedom of the press has played a vital part in exposing wrongdoing within FIFA, which just reinforces why the principle of the freedom of the press matters so much.

I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman that these very serious matters need to be investigated quickly, and we will give every support we can to the US and Swiss authorities in doing so.

Photo of Damian Collins Damian Collins Conservative, Folkestone and Hythe

I, too, welcome the Secretary of State to his new post. Following on from his lead, will he confirm that the Government stand ready to support the Swiss and US authorities in their investigation? Will the Government accede to a request to share information they hold relative to the England World cup bid in 2010—information gathered on other bidding nations as part of the tournament process? Should the Football Association share with the authorities the information in its secret dossier, which was revealed to the Select Committee, because it may contain relevant information for the prosecutions by the US Attorney General and the Swiss authorities?

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

I once again pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the work that he has done in this area, particularly for his efforts to assemble a coalition in Europe to press for fundamental change in FIFA. On the help that we can give the authorities, I am very happy to confirm that we will make available any information we have that may be helpful in the investigations. Allegations were certainly made, particularly by Lord Triesman as chairman of the team for the 2018 bid. They were dismissed by FIFA at the time, but I have no doubt that the authorities will be willing to take them a lot more seriously than FIFA appeared to do. I want to thank Lord Triesman for coming forward at that time and The Sunday Times for producing evidence. I would also like to pay tribute to you, Mr Speaker, for your efforts in ensuring that those allegations were properly heard and that the right of Parliament was defended.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Labour, Leicester East

I join others in warmly congratulating the Secretary of State on his appointment. It is well deserved. I cannot think of anyone in the House who is better placed to deal with these matters than he is. I also congratulate my hon. Friend Chris Bryant on his elevation to the shadow Cabinet. I am sure that Department for Culture, Media and Sport questions will now be box office as a result.

May I press the Secretary of State on the comments made by Stephen Phillips? Of course it is for the SFO to conduct the investigation, and it would be wrong for the House to direct it to do so, but has the Secretary of State had a discussion with the Attorney General, because it is possible for him to review with the head of the SFO any information that could be of relevance to the international inquiries?

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks. As I have observed elsewhere, I hope my appointment sets a useful precedent for Select Committee Chairmen.

As the right hon. Gentleman says, the SFO investigation is a matter for the SFO, but it will have heard the calls today and the calls made by my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins) in the debate in the previous Parliament—I understand that it is considering them. I have not yet had an opportunity to talk to the Attorney General, but I will be happy to do so, and to make clear to him and to the SFO that we will assist in any way we can.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his appointment. I hope other Ministers will forgive me when I say that, when the new Government were put together, his was the best appointment made by the Prime Minister.

The Secretary of State should be very proud of his record on this issue, and of the leadership he showed when he was Chairman of the Select Committee. We know from those inquiries that FIFA is clearly corrupt, that Sepp Blatter has been leading the way in that corruption, and that somebody has to make a stand. If the election goes ahead and Sepp Blatter is re-elected, unbelievably, as the head of FIFA, will my right hon. Friend encourage the home nations to withdraw from FIFA and to make a stand, or if they were to make that decision, would the Government support them?

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

I am grateful to my hon. Friend who, I am delighted to see, maintains his record of doing nothing to curry favour with the Chief Whip.

As my hon. Friend says, we need to look at the matter carefully. What happens after Friday if Sepp Blatter is re-elected will need careful consideration, primarily by the FA. It has been taken for granted up until now that Sepp Blatter will win, but the election has not yet taken place, and elections do not always produce the outcome that the experts predict. We shall wait and see. I shall certainly be seeing Greg Dyke very shortly to discuss the attitude of the FA. There are a number of options. Whether one would resort to the nuclear option my hon. Friend suggests is a matter for the FA, but we will need to discuss that option with it.

Photo of Nick Smith Nick Smith Labour, Blaenau Gwent

Given the high number of workplace deaths in Qatar, how will the Government monitor the effectiveness of the workers charter for migrant workers there?

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

We are in regular contact with Qatar—we have a good and strong relationship with the Qataris. Obviously, we will raise any concerns that are brought to our attention about the conditions of migrant workers. As I have said, the workers charter to which the hon. Gentleman refers has been introduced—it was developed with the International Labour Organisation to protect the rights of migrant workers. I understand that the Qataris are keen to address any concerns that have been highlighted, but we will go on pressing them when any further concerns are brought to our attention.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Conservative, Ashford

I wish this were a happier occasion to welcome my right hon. Friend to his richly deserved position at the Government Dispatch Box. The behaviour of FIFA—not just currently, but over decades—would make any football fan weep with anger. Does he agree that, in the short term, the best and most effective leverage over FIFA comes from its commercial sponsors, which pour many hundreds of millions of pounds into it? Will he use his and the Government’s influence on those sponsors to persuade them to stop spending so much money supporting a systemically corrupt organisation?

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend. I welcome the statement that has already been made by Visa, and I hope that the other sponsors will follow suit. One assumes that commercial organisations wish to make sponsorship deals to attach themselves to a brand that is popular and successful, not one that is tarnished and regarded as corrupt. They are, therefore, well placed to press FIFA to make fundamental changes. If it fails to do so, they will have to consider whether to continue their sponsorship. That is obviously a matter for them, but I welcome the moves that have already been made by sponsors to put that message to FIFA.

Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Opposition Whip (Commons)

I share the incredulity of many football fans that Sepp Blatter and the senior leadership of FIFA can remain in their positions after these allegations, which have been going on for some time. Does the Secretary of State agree that the Swiss Government need to take a serious look at how they regulate and oversee the activities and finances of international sporting organisations, including not only FIFA but the International Olympic Committee, UEFA and many other bodies located in Swiss territory?

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

I am sure that the Swiss authorities will do that, but they are acting in co-operation with the US Justice Department and have clearly taken the allegations seriously. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the IOC, and it is worth noting that some 15 to 20 years ago similar allegations of corruption swirled around that body. It acted decisively and carried out wholesale reform, cleaning up the whole bidding process for the award of the Olympic games. That is a good precedent for the kind of action that we now want to see FIFA also undertake.

Photo of Nigel Mills Nigel Mills Conservative, Amber Valley

On that point, does the Secretary of State really believe that FIFA can re-establish its reputation as a clean, non-corrupt organisation? Is it not now time for UEFA and other organisations to form a new global football body to try to have a fresh start?

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

I hope that FIFA can clean up its act, but to do so it will certainly need a change at the very top. Fundamental reform can happen only if it is led from the top, and I have no confidence that that will happen under the present leadership.

Photo of Graham Jones Graham Jones Opposition Assistant Whip (Commons)

How many UK companies are involved in World cup construction, particularly in Qatar? What assessment have the Government made of British involvement in the next two World cups, and what is their position on the role of British companies, again especially in Qatar?

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a precise answer about the number of companies involved, although I would be happy to obtain those figures for him. It is certainly the case that some very successful British companies are involved in the preparations for the World cup, and we strongly support and assist that involvement. If there are concerns about working conditions, I do not believe that they are in areas where British companies are involved, but we will continue to talk to them and to the Qatari Government about those issues.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his well-deserved appointment and thank him for his statement today. Football fans in Kettering will be greatly concerned about the FIFA allegations because, at the grassroots level, Kettering Town football club is struggling to find a permanent home while at the top of the game tens of millions of pounds have allegedly been paid in bribes. I am sure that football fans in Kettering would want their MP to ask the Secretary of State why this matter has been left to the United States, which is not well known as a leading soccer nation, when many European countries, with well-established football reputations, have failed to take this long-overdue legal action.

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

As I said earlier, I have not yet had the chance to read the full indictment from the US authorities, but it is well known that they take such allegations seriously. I welcome the fact that a proper investigation will now take place. Ideally, it should not have been left until the US authorities—or any national authority—acted, because the allegations have been made to FIFA repeatedly over the last two years. That body should have investigated the allegations rather than sweeping them under the carpet, which has been its practice until now.

Photo of Jason McCartney Jason McCartney Conservative, Colne Valley

Twenty years ago today, I joined 26,000 other Huddersfield Town fans at Wembley for a memorable play-off victory. Will the Secretary of State reaffirm the importance of this issue, because our beautiful game does not belong to Blatter and his corrupt cronies, but to the fans?

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

My hon. Friend is entirely right—and, in a sense, that is the greatest sadness. The game generates passion among millions of people in this country and around the world, and the World cup should be the greatest event in football, yet it has been tarnished by the potential allegations of corruption over the allocation of the World cup in 2018 and 2022 and by the apparent corruption among so many members of FIFA. For the fans’ sake, this has to be addressed, because it is dragging football down and doing huge damage to a game that so many people love.

Photo of Mark Pawsey Mark Pawsey Conservative, Rugby

FIFA has investigated itself many times and given itself a clean bill of health. Why have previous allegations not been taken sufficiently seriously and why has it taken action by the United States authorities to get us to where we are today?

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

FIFA has previously promised that allegations will be investigated, but when Garcia was appointed to carry out an inquiry, not only did his report fail to address some of the most serious allegations, but it was redacted and not published, much to the distress not just of all those observing FIFA but of Mr Garcia himself. FIFA’s repeated failure to take these allegations seriously and to conduct proper inquiries has led to the position we are in today.

Photo of Alec Shelbrooke Alec Shelbrooke Conservative, Elmet and Rothwell

My right hon. Friend described the nuclear option in response to my hon. Friend Philip Davies, but that is not the nuclear option; that is simply sending in the infantry. The real nuclear option, which would cause Armageddon in the football world, is a boycott of the World cup by UEFA. As my right hon. Friend said, UEFA has acted honourably and is today trying to make representations to boycott the congress. Will he send the Minister for Sport to meet her counterparts in Europe to discuss the option of UEFA boycotting the World cup in 2018, which would have such an impact commercially on FIFA that it would have to take notice?

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that if we are to bring effective pressure to bear on FIFA, we need to assemble as large a coalition as possible. UEFA has already taken a good lead on this, and we will be approaching other European football associations, and football associations from other parts of the world, to try and build as wide and as strong a coalition as possible. I mentioned that the Minister for Sport is writing to her counterparts today, but I am sure she would be happy to take up his suggestion of having meetings with them in due course to discuss how best to take the matter forward. I do not think we are yet at the stage of boycotting the World cup, which might cause concern to the many people who enjoy the World cup, but there is no question but that something has to be done.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

Four years ago, the original chairman of our World cup bid, Lord Triesman, named four people—Jack Warner, Nicolas Leoz, Ricardo Teixeira and Worawi Makudi—for seeking bribes in return for their supporting our bid. How is it then that four years later we are in this position and still blaming a corrupt organisation, FIFA, when the actions concerned are criminal? Why has it taken the United States to act—this is the repeated question from across the House—when British institutions, banks and authorities could have got involved and could and should have done more? Will the Secretary of State come back to the House and tell us what lessons have been learned, so that we can be sure that rotten apples with big international footprints will not in future be left alone by our authorities for the fear that we have in this country about taking them on?

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

My hon. Friend is right to say that these allegations have been around a long time. They were made by Lord Triesman to the Select Committee in the last Parliament and indeed by The Sunday Times, which published a huge amount of evidence suggesting very serious corruption. As to why criminal investigations have not taken place, I believe the Serious Fraud Office has been looking at this. I will speak to the Attorney General and I am pleased that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is sitting alongside me, as she will have heard our hon. Friend’s comments. The important thing now is to act together to make sure that a thorough investigation is carried out. My hon. Friend mentioned Mr Jack Warner. One thing about which the Select Committee report expressed surprise was the fact that FIFA dropped its investigation into Jack Warner, yet he is now one of the individuals who has been arrested in Zurich.