ZURICH (Reuters) - FIFA faced more calls for greater transparency on Friday when its own ethics investigator joined the critics and complained of a “disconnect” with the public.
Former United States attorney Michael Garcia, head of the ethics committee’s investigatory chamber, said too little information was being given on cases such as the probe into the controversial bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
Garcia’s comments, at the World Summit on Ethics in Sports in Zurich, came after FIFA president Sepp Blatter had described his organization’s ethics set-up as exemplary when he opened the event.
FIFA was also criticized by Sylvia Schenk, a former Olympic athlete representing anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International.
She said there was too much emphasis on punishing individuals rather than changing the federation’s working culture.
Garcia recently completed a year-long investigation into allegations of corruption which surrounded the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, awarded to Russia and Qatar respectively, in December 2010.
The report has been handed to FIFA’s ethics judge Hans-Joachim Eckert, but without being made public.
FIFA’s code of ethics rules that the process must stay secret, a stance that has led to criticism for a lack of transparency. The ethics committee’s independence has also been questioned.
“(The FIFA ethics code) is a robust code implemented in a fair and thorough way, but the process must lead to something else. The goal has to be instilling confidence in the process,” Garcia, in a rare public appearance, told the event.
“Beyond any particular case, the public have to have confidence that the process is working in a fair way.”
Garcia added that there was “something of a disconnect” between the public and the ethics committee, which was reformed by FIFA following a series of corruptions scandals in 2010 and 2011.
“When I think back to my days in the United States attorney’s district office in Manhattan, generally considered one of the best in the United States, we had a very strong reputation with the public and there was much public confidence in the work that we had done,” he said.
“Obviously, we have a very strong criminal code, we have a very strong criminal procedure and we also had a very good track record.
“I doubt that we would have enjoyed that confidence if we couldn’t have announced who had been charged with what.
“I doubt we could have enjoyed that confidence if the only record of the proceedings would have been a name and a sentence, if the press release read: Joe Smith was sentenced today for 20 years for violating the United States code 1922.
“There could be little support from a public that was so little informed. So, I think, what we need at this point is greater transparency in the process, transparency in the charges, in the decisions and the basis of the decisions, while continuing to protect the rights of all persons.
“I hope that this code is studied and applied, and may be revised, so it will be possible to have that type of transparency.
“If you are severely limited — and I didn’t write this code — you have to follow it and there’s a very limited amount that gets out. That’s a disservice and people are skeptical.”
Earlier, Blatter praised FIFA’s ethics set-up, created in 2004 and overhauled three years ago.
“Since the reforms, we have had an exemplary organization in ethics,” he said.
“We are the only sports organization which has this independent body for ethics. Nobody else... Not even the IOC (International Olympic Committee).”
But Schenk said that FIFA had nothing to be proud of.
“I was astonished to hear Mr Blatter saying that they had an ethics code in 2004 — but what has happened?
“They had one scandal after another and they’ve only just now started to look into it,” she said. “It’s nothing to be proud of.
“I sometimes have the feeling they want to blame individuals, but it’s about the system and about the culture.”
“We need more openness, more of a discussion culture in sports organizations and soccer,” she said.
“If they just publish the report...on what happened in Qatar, without transparency, and just punish individuals — and say ‘we did a good job and we are clean’, FIFA will not regain trust. FIFA will not gain respect.”
Editing by Sudipto Ganguly and Tim Collings