'I Think FIFA Stinks,' Says Reporter Who Exposed Corruption Scandal

Jun 3, 2015
Originally published on June 4, 2015 1:02 am
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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

You can trace the downfall of FIFA head Sepp Blatter and the FIFA executives who were arrested last Friday to a 71-year-old English investigative reporter, Andrew Jennings. He's been doggedly digging up evidence of FIFA's corruption for about 15 years, when no one else was. And he wrote about what he turned up in books with sensational titles. One is titled "Foul: The Secret World Of FIFA: Bribes, Vote-Rigging And Ticket Scandals." The other is "Omerta: Sepp Blatter's FIFA Organised Crime Family." Andrew Jennings joins me now from his home in the very north of England. And, Mr. Jennings, first, I'm curious to hear your reaction yesterday when Sepp Blatter came before cameras and resigned.

ANDREW JENNINGS: Well, he hasn't quite resigned. He said he's going, but he's staying as long as he can to control the transition process for several months. I mean, I've known it was coming because I've been helping the FBI organized crime squad from New York over the past six years. And they didn't tell me they were coming to lift some people, but it was about time for them to do it. So I wasn't very surprised, and I've known they've been crooks for so long.

BLOCK: You say you were helping the FBI. And I read about this today in the Washington Post - that you were approached by FBI special agents back in 2009. And you sent them documents - confidential financial reports. Were you comfortable with that role? Were you blurring a journalistic line there?

JENNINGS: I'm perfectly happy with it because for nearly two decades, I've looked at FIFA, and the European police forces have done nothing. The Swiss governments have done nothing. So when a bunch of sophisticated, honest policemen turn up and say, hey, we want to nail FIFA, what do you do? Say, no, no, I'm a liberal journalist. I couldn't possibly give you - you say, what do you want?

BLOCK: Before you started into looking in FIFA, Mr. Jennings, you had investigated the Italian Mafia. You'd investigated international drug rings. What was it that got you interested in exploring the dirty dealings of international soccer?

JENNINGS: Well, it takes time. I mean, I looked - there was something desperately wrong. I knew there was corruption going on. I thought, at first, it was sort of, you know, the few rotten apples in the barrel theory. But then as I dug into them, it interested me because what I realized is you start with passion, and it's massive for sport. I don't have it, personally, but millions and billions of people are very, very passionate about performance of sport. It generates a lot of money. Then you realize it's unregulated. If there's unregulated money, than the mob turn up quite soon. They turned up. They took control of world soccer. They privatized it, sold it to the global brands. Now that, to me, is a fascinating axis for a reporter.

BLOCK: Looking ahead to where FIFA goes from here, do you think an insider can turn the organization around, or does it need to be somebody completely from the outside?

JENNINGS: I think FIFA stinks. FIFA is rotten. All the directors - the important people who run it - are complicit. We don't want these people around, and I think world football in America could help with this. And that is we need not a congress doomed to elect some other Muppet, but we need a conference of friendly, descent football associations talking about new structures. How should we be organized? What is the ideal way, at this time in history, to organize it?

BLOCK: Would you expect to see the World Cups that were given to Russia in 2018, Qatar in 2022 - would you expect to see the World Cubs being played in those countries?

JENNINGS: No, because as Blatter goes down, logic, common sense, sponsor interest, fan interest are going to take them away.

BLOCK: No question for you.

JENNINGS: No. It was corrupt when it happened, and we have to deal with that corruption. And the feds, I think, will be able to help us.

BLOCK: Well, Andrew Jennings, thanks so much for talking to us.

JENNINGS: Thank you very much.

BLOCK: That's investigative reporter Andrew Jennings. His most recent book is "Omerta: Sepp Blatter's FIFA Organised Crime Family." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.