FIFA, the German Judge, and other entanglements

It somehow looked like a scene from a mafia movie: the widow and children of the deceased walked ahead of her husband’s three business associates on a day in April 1987. The three men following Monika Dassler today are the makers and shakers in the sport’s world.

That April day, Joao Havelange, Juan Antonio Samaranch and Sepp Blatter were all present at the small and private ceremony commemorating the life of their patron, Horst Dassler. The man inside the coffin had, over the years, changed the worlds of sports – and many people would say that he changed it for the worse. Horst Dassler was the heir of the adidas company, founded by his father Adi Dassler. During the World Cup final of 1954, the boot technology developed by Adi Dassler became world famous, because it was believed to have given the German players on the pitch a crucial advantage.

The 1954 World Cup made adidas the preeminent sports company in Germany, leaving behind Puma, the company founded by Dassler’s brother Rudolf, with whom Adi was on bad terms. The sons of the original Dassler brothers continued the on-going family feud and took a step further by moving it into the world of business.

Both Horst and his cousin Armin Dassler were entangled in a rivalry that also reached the world of sports. Horst Dassler’s idea was simple: he wanted to see the world’s best athletes and footballers wearing and using adidas products, which we’ve come to know as simple and effective product placement. At first, both adidas and Puma sought direct contact with athletes, trying to persuade them (with some material encouragement) to wear their products.

The competition between the two companies created a culture of bribes at big sporting events. Ahead of the 1966 World Cup final, two English players miraculously switched their boots from adidas to Puma after they had been paid a healthy compensation for their troubles (the boots were placed in the locker room’s bathroom in order to assure that nobody knew what was going on).

All of it began when a young Horst Dassler is sent to the Olympics in Melbourne in 1954 to represent the family business. His coffers are filled, and the athletes are pleasantly surprised by the charming German’s offers. Four years later, Puma and cousin Armin had understood how the game needed to be played, and the athletes were anxiously awaiting the two of them. However, athletes could jump ship whenever they liked, since neither adidas or Puma had any legal remedies at hand to reverse these decisions. One of the strangest moments of the 1960 Olympics in that regard was sprinter Armin Hary’s gold run, which he managed while wearing Puma shoes. Yet, on the winner’s podium, Hary wore adidas shoes.

The good old days: Dassler alongside Samaranch and Thomas Bach(a former employee of Dassler's and the current IOC president).
The good old days: Dassler alongside Samaranch and Thomas Bach(a former employee of Dassler’s and the current IOC president).

Influencing sports associations and their leaders, however, turned out to be a more effective means of doing business, as Horst Dassler soon found out. At first, he tried buying the functionaries’ loyalty with sponsorship agreements in order to ensure that adidas could make sure that the rules outlawing sponsorship agreements between amateurs and companies were changed in favor of companies. He later started to install confidants at the top of sports associations. First, the Brazilian Joao Havelange was crowned as the head of FIFA, after ousting Stanley Rous from the throne. Furthermore, ahead of the election, in Frankfurt, several African member states of FIFA received envelopes filled with money to ensure that they’d vote for Dassler’s man. Six years later, Dassler also ensured that Juan Antonio Samaranch, a man with a past in the Franco regime, was made head of the IOC.

Being crowned the head of FIFA gave Havelange the chance to re-invent his image at home after he left the Brazilian FA in dire straights. However, FIFA’s general secretary turned out to be not to the liking of the new Brazilian president and Dassler. At the time, FIFA’s general secretary was Helmut Käser, a dry accountant who wasn’t interested in bending the organization’s rules and who meticulously followed FIFA’s money trail. After a “golden handshake,” Käser decided to leave the organisation, opening the floor to a new man who was more to Dassler’s liking: Sepp Blatter.

Blatter had been working for the Swiss ice hockey association and was discovered by Dassler in 1975. After joining FIFA as the director for development programs, Blatter’s career path within the football organization would lead straight to the top. About the man who brought him into the fold, Blatter would later say:

He taught me the intricacies of sports politics – an excellent lesson for me!

However, Horst Dassler didn’t necessarily regard Blatter as his pupil. For example, André Guelfi – former racing driver, owner of Le Coq Sportif, and a close ally of Dassler’s – has been attributed with this quote about the power dynamics between Blatter and Dassler:

Horst spoke openly about Blatter as a puppet and he presented him as one of us. He was a marginal figure; Horst had complete control over him. When the three of us were dining, Blatter was looking at Horst like he was a god. He knew that he wouldn’t have had a chance to get that job at FIFA without Horst.

Follow the money: ISL and other scandals

Having effectively manipulated the democratic processes of organisations such as FIFA and the IOC, Horst Dassler had first-hand access to men in high places. He was their patron; without him, they wouldn’t have been in their high positions.

Meanwhile, during the mid-70s, Dassler found out that marketing rights were a valuable asset. Initially, Dassler worked with British PR expert Patrick Nally on selling marketing rights to companies around the world. However, the patron’s growing paranoia led Dassler to the conclusion that Nally was trying to undermine him by going behind his back. Towards the end of his life, Dassler started to expect a spy for his cousin around every corner and he even started to mislead members of his own board in order to make sure the nobody knew what he was doing at any given time. So many years had been spent on the feud with his cousin that in the end the ongoing competition took its toll on Dassler. As a result, in 1982 Dassler founded the company ISL (International Sports and Leisure).

From then on, ISL purchased the rights to market big events from the IOC, FIFA, and other sporting associations, then sell them at great profit. For example, the rights to the 1986 World Cup were purchased at the price of 45 million Swiss Francs, then sold for an incredible 200 million Swiss Francs. Amazingly, the rights to the 1990 World Cup in Italy generated around 300 million Swiss Francs, according to Forbes.

The difference between these numbers is huge. On paper, it appeared that Dassler and his partners were making a killing purchasing these rights on the cheap – given that the IOC, FIFA, and other sports associations weren’t looking into other offers – and selling them along at market value. However, to keep the system going, the ISL needed to pay out kickbacks to ensure that it ended up with the rights to these sporting events.

In 1990, Dassler’s four sisters sold their shares in adidas, as their brother had neglected the day-to- day business of keeping up with fashion trends from around the world, instead focusing solely on the politics and business of sports. The only company the family held onto was the ISL: the profitable crown jewel.

Between 1989 and 2001, ISL spent an incredible 156 million Swiss Francs on bribes. Jean-Marie Weber, Dassler’s former assistant, played an essential role in this capacity.  He was the man with the briefcases, which were handed over to sporting officials from around the world. Both Dassler and Weber had gotten into trouble early on, however, when the latter forgot his briefcase at the airport in Geneva in 1982. The French police investigated Dassler and Weber for currency crimes and both men’s houses were searched by the French police. Shortly before his death, Dassler wanted to sack Weber, as the man with the lists over the names of those who received bribes and the briefcases filled with cash became increasingly suspicious to the patron.

Jean-Marie Weber, the man in charge of the bribes, alongside Sepp Blatter.
Jean-Marie Weber, the man in charge of the bribes, alongside Sepp Blatter.

In 2001, the company imploded and had to file for bankruptcy. ISL owed more than 300 million dollars to its creditors in the end. Seven years after the second biggest company collapse in the history of Switzerland, six ISL officials were tried in a Swiss court for withholding a 45 million pound payment from the Globo TV network that should have gone to FIFA. The trial showed the extent of the bribery ISL used, but, at the time there weren’t any laws in place in Switzerland criminalizing the giving of kickbacks to officials from the world of sports.

Christoph Malms, formerly married to one of Dassler’s sisters and the CEO of ISL, pointed out during the trial that FIFA officals were well aware of what was going on. FIFA critic and journalist Andrew Jennings writes about the revelation that took place in a court room in Zug, Switzerland:

The second grenade was tossed into the courtroom by Herr Werner Würgler, the lawyer for Christoph Malms. While his client really, really, honestly didn’t have proof of who got the kickbacks, he had been given two huge clues. Herr Würgler claimed that FIFA President Sepp Blatter had approached Christoph Malms and told him in no uncertain terms that if ISL wanted to keep FIFA’s business, Jean-Marie Weber had to keep his job at the company. If not, ‘It would be bad for ISL.’

Making sure that Jean-Marie, the man who delivered FIFA’s bribes, kept his job at ISL seemed to be a priority for FIFA presidents because, according to Herr Würgler’s speech to the judges, during the World Cup in France in 1998, President Havelange had made the same demand.

Würgler added that, ‘because of these ultimatums made by the two FIFA presidents, ‘it was made economically impossible for the ISL Group to move away from the system of commission payments.’

(Commissions? We thought they were bribes. Calling the kickbacks ‘commissions’ made the ISL guys feel better about themselves.)

Würgler hadn’t finished with Blatter. The lawyer rammed home the point that anybody at FIFA who knew about the bribes – and who was getting them – could exercise great power over fellow officials. And in case the judges hadn’t yet got the point, the ISL company had become a private source of money for FIFA – virtually their private bank.

Three ISL men on trial were acquitted, whilst Jean-Marie Weber and two other got off with fines. Last year, the German magazine Der Spiegel published a list showing how 142 million Swiss Franc were used to by ISL to bribe officials. Additionally, the magazine revealed that Blatter had known all along about the bribes received by his predecessor Joao Havelange and the Brazilian’s son-in-law, Ricardo Teixera. Furthermore, it was also revealed that Blatter asked to transfer a payment that should have gone to  Joao Havelange‘s bank account, but was mistakenly received instead by FIFA.

These revelations didn’t surprise people who had been following the way FIFA was conducting its business over the years. Blatter may not have been regarded as an equal by Horst Dassler, but Blatter was right in stating that he learned valuable lessons from the man who knew the world of sports politics inside out.

The way in which Blatter was elected FIFA president, as Havelange’s successor, left a foul taste in the mouths of many observers. Back in the day, Horst Dassler took Havelange on a trip around the world ahead of the 1974 FIFA presidential elections with the purpose of persuading several FIFA states to vote for the Brazilian. Years later Jack Warner and Mohamed Bin Hammam did the same thing as they backed Blatter to become Havelange’s successor. In exchange for Blatter votes, promises were made to the poorer nations within the football family. For example, many of the African delegates staying in Parisian hotel Méridien received bribes the night before the vote. One delegate even forgot to take the enveloped filled with money back to his hotel room and left it in the lobby. In the end, Blatter won handily over his Swedish opponent, Lennart Johansson. The Swede had promised to bring transparency to FIFA’s proceedings.

Four years later, Bin Hammam once again was on hand to fly around the world in a private jet paid for by the Qatari businessman to help Blatter gain re-election. Again, promises were made, and Blatter handily defeated his opponent Issa Hayatou (editor’s note: Hayatou was also among the names of FIFA officials listed by Der Spiegel who had been bribed by ISL). After his resignation in 2011, former FIFA vice-president Jack Warner wrote in a letter to the Trinidad Guardian:

All the real “gifts” that Blatter gave to secure his two elections will turn stomachs inside out.

Both Warner and Bin Hammam were later exposed for taking bribes. The Qatari’s relationship with Blatter had soured over the years. As Bin Hammam was running for the FIFA presidency against the incumbent, it was revealed that his run for AFC president was far from clean, and the Qatari was banned for life. Furthermore, Warner claimed in his letter that he and the Qatari had to pay the price for standing up to Sepp Blatter.

Unfortunate behavior and reforming FIFA: the judge’s verdict

Over recent years, the scandals which have followed FIFA around have led many to demand that Blatter and FIFA need to get their act together. Most football fans hope that the organisation, which represents the world of football, will be cleaned up sooner rather than later. Yet Blatter and Havelange have influenced what was going on in regional football associations in order to assure they could govern without somebody in power opposing FIFA’s executive committee or any other related governing bodies.

In 2011, FIFA reacted to the ever-growing discomfort surrounding Qatar and Russia being made hosts of the World Cups in 2022 and 2018 by introducing a Independent Governance Committee headed by Swiss law professor Mark Pieth. Working on transparency and helping the organisation to function better in the future were among the tasks assigned to Pieth and his staff. In their final report, Pieth’s group created a list of seven recommendations. Furthermore, the report credited FIFA for introducing an Ethics Committee consisting of two chambers: one prosecuting chamber and one judiciary chamber.

Former US attorney Michael Garcia was named as the investigator of the the first chamber, and German judge Hans-Joachim Eckhart was named as judge of the other chamber (after Pieth had suggested him for the position). The American had made waves at home during his investigation of the Elliot Spitzer scandal, and the FIFA congress gave him the mandate to leave no stone unturned in order to find out whether there had been any wrong-doings.

After Garcia had concluded his investigation into the ISL scandal, Eckhart was handed a 4,000-page report documenting corruption that had taken place. Despite the Swiss justice system coming to the conclusion that Blatter had known about what had been going on all along, and that Blatter was involved in at least one case of bribery, the judge surprisingly conclused that the president’s behaviour had been unfortunate for a man in his position.

Michael Garcia(left) disagrees with the conclusion judge Hans-Joachim Eckhart has come to after reviewing the American's report.
Michael Garcia(left) disagrees with the conclusion judge Hans-Joachim Eckhart has come to after reviewing the American’s report.

However, ever since the FIFA executive committee decided to allow Russia and Qatar host the the World Cup in 2018 and 2022 respectively, the media echo had drawn an unflattering picture of what was going on at FIFA (and especially within the executive committee). Garcia started to investigate the biding process in 2012, touring all nations competing to host the World Cup. Upon the conclusion of the investigation the American handed a 430-page report to Eckhart.

The outcome of the process was anxiously awaited all around the world, and it isn’t an understatement to say that this month’s ruling has sent shock waves around the world compared to the reaction which followed the ruling about the ISL scandal.  The public perception and worldwide media reaction have caused Eckhart’s colleagues to question if it could damage his reputation to such a degree that he could cause trouble for them. Both the Qatari and Russian World Cup bids were examined by prosecutor Michael Garcia, then Eckhart ruled that the conduct by both campaigns hadn’t gotten to a point that would allow FIFA to take any action.

Furthermore, Eckhart committed a faux pas when he failed to protect the names of two witnesses who had come forward to Garcia under the condition that their identities weren’t blown. Blatter himself emerged from the verdict unscathed once again, and he was even celebrated as the reformer of FIFA, even though Eckhart’s job description doesn’t require him to give performance reviews within his verdicts.

As a result, Garcia was outraged to such a degree that he appealed the verdict, stating that the conclusions drawn in Eckhart’s 42-page ruling were “incomplete and erroneous.” The American has appealed the verdict to the FIFA’s Appeal Committee. If experts on the matter are to be believed, this next step won’t have any effect, as this committee (like so many others at FIFA) consists of functionaries who have a close relationship with Sepp Blatter. Garcia’s report was sent to the Swiss police for further investigation, but at this point it seems unlikely that any further developments are going to take place.

Pieth and others have demanded that the full 430-page Garcia report be released. If this were to happen, it may have dramatic consequences for either Eckhart of Garcia. If it turns out that Eckhart managed to filter out the best of Garcia’s investigation, then questions are going to be raised about why Garcia investigated so sloppily. On the other hand, another scenario would see Eckhart jumping to the wrong conclusions despite ample evidence of foul play being presented to him. Either way, someone will look bad.

Pieth has his own take on why the German judge ruled the way he did. According to Pieth, Eckhart seemingly approached the proceedings as a German criminal justice judge would, and not as an ethics judge, and therefore came to some of his conclusions.

More interestingly though, many wonder what might be revealed to the public if the Garcia report is released in full length. What did Blatter know? How much corruption was going on at the time? Is it true that Blatter slammed the English press before the executive committee made its decision (England was one of the World Cup hosting candidates)? All of these questions are in dire need of answering.

Rauball:”UEFA could leave FIFA!”

As has been seen before, it seems that Blatter is simply trying to buy himself more time in order to weather the storm. Ever since the 78-year-old took over FIFA, there have been a number of scandals regarding his activities. These days, most football fans have lost their faith in what FIFA are doing.

Already back in 1986, German magazine Der Spiegel ran a cover story about the dirty corruption within the world of sports and FIFA, and, as the news of late have shown, there has been little change since Horst Dassler’s days. It’s been 40 years since Havelange was installed at the top of FIFA by the adidas man, and since then it have been his men running the show.

Sepp Blatter talks to his predecessor Joao Havelange.
Sepp Blatter talks to his predecessor Joao Havelange.

Once Eckhart didn’t release the Garcia report, reactions from the media and football officials around the world have been broadcast over the last few days. DFL president Reinhard Rauball was harsh in criticism, questioning “whether it was justified to leave these things out. That has to be made public. It’s the only way FIFA can restore some of its lost credibility.” Rauball went on saying:

One option, which would have to be seriously considered, is certainly whether UEFA should leave FIFA.

UEFA leaving FIFA would certainly shake things up in the football world. In the past, there have been ideas about inviting American, Asian and African teams to the EUROs. If the UEFA would invite those nations to their tournaments in addition to boycotting the World Cup, the world of football could change drastically. It is that sort of scenario which makes Sepp Blatter lose sleep at night according to German FIFA expert Thomas Kistner.

However, Michel Platini’s ties to the Qatari World Cup bid have been well-documented. Additionally, there have been allegations of dubious dealings within UEFA during the Frenchman’s election campaign against Lennart Johansson in 2009. As late as 2011, Jack Warner claimed that Platini was groomed to become Blatter’s successor at FIFA. However, the friendship that was established during France’s bid for the World Cup in 1998 between Blatter and Platini has soured, and the former Juventus player has distanced himself from the Swiss president in recent days. So it remains questionable if Platini could represent the change football fans from all around the world are hungry for.

Sources: In addition to the articles that have been linked to there have been other sources on which this text is based on.

– Thomas Kistner: FIFA Mafia
– Andrew Jennings: Foul! The secret world of FIFA
– BBC: Panorama – FIFA’s dirty secrets

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Niklas Wildhagen

Niklas is a 33-year-old football writer and podcaster who has been following the Bundesliga and German football since the early 90s. You can follow him on Twitter, @normusings, and listen to his opinions on @TalkingFussball.

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