‘These clowns paid bribes in US dollars… screaming to be caught’
When Andrew Jennings’ phone buzzed at 6 in the morning on May 27 last year, he did not bother to check who it was. He was asleep at his house near London when Sepp Blatter’s confidantes were dramatically being arrested from a posh Zurich hotel, charged for running a racket running into hundreds of millions.
Jennings did not need anyone to inform him about it. For he was the reason they were arrested. It was the Scot’s dogged, obsessive and old-fashioned journalism published in form of books and television documentaries, which eventually led to the FBI reaching out to him, seeking his assistance in their investigation against the corrupt FIFA officials, including the federation’s beleaguered former president.
The 72-year-old has been relentless in his pursuit of corrupt FIFA officials, setting the investigation rolling with his book in 2006 titled “FOUL! The Secret World of FIFA: Bribes, Vote Rigging and Ticket Scandals.” That was followed by an explosive documentary for the BBC before he wrote his second book, “Omerta: Sepp Blatter’s FIFA Organised Crime Family.”
Jennings went about his business while other journalists were caught ball watching, quite literally. “If you send me to a football game I might get the scoreline wrong because that’s not what I do. I am a document hound,” Jennings tells The Indian Express in his typical tongue-in-cheek manner.
He used his uncanny style – and his most powerful weapons, a camera and a mike – to his advantage when he was denied entry by FIFA to their meetings and headquarters. Jennings still gatecrashed them, casually shouting out questions like, “Herr Blatter, have you ever taken a bribe?”
Blatter wouldn’t answer, but his expressions captured on camera would reveal a lot. To prove his innocence, Blatter’s executives once offered Jennings dozens of documents, which is exactly what he wanted. Jennings would minutely scrutinize them to build evidence against one of the most powerful men in world sport. Blatter threatened to sue Jennings but did not.
“These clowns paid bribes in US dollars, it all goes through clearing banks in New York. They guys should have done in Rupees, in Euros, gold bars, Rolexes… but these clowns did by wiring US dollars… screaming to be caught. They were arrogant,” says Jennings, whose style has been described by the Washington Post as Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein put together.
Jennings, also responsible for exposing the corruption within the International Olympic Committee, says the football scam got serious after the police got involved.
During his years of investigation of FIFA officials, Jennings has had his phone, computers and house bugged. But that did not deter him from carrying out his task. “I have mixed with real criminals and you have to be careful. These are a bunch of pussycats who just steal money. That’s why they still don’t get it. They do my phones, my computers, plant wires but they don’t know a hitman. They are dangerous to public morality but not dangerous to me,” he says.
Jennings doesn’t conceal his happiness over the arrest and subsequent suspensions handed out to the men who he has chased for nearly 15 years. “They are not nice men, so I am happy they will not be able to sleep well. I am now looking forward to seeing them in a US court. Hopefully, someone will pay my airfare,” he laughs.
“Did anyone think you are a madman?”
Most interviews Grant Wahl gave after he announced his candidature for FIFA presidency in 2011 would begin with them asking him if it was a joke. But the 42-year-old American sports writer thought it was an inspired question when a Chinese journalist asked if anyone thought him to be a madman.
For here was a sports journalist trying not just to challenge Sepp Blatter’s empire but also to topple him and rule his kingdom when even some of the most powerful men in the world, including the Sheikhs, thought they stood no chance.
But Wahl decided to throw his hat into the FIFA ring after witnessing rising frustration against Blatter as the allegations of corruption surfaced. Despite the growing discontentment against Blatter, no one was willing to challenge him during the 2011 elections. So, after a quick research, Wahl decided to run for the highest office in football, buoyed by the fact that three out of the previous eight FIFA presidents worked as sports journalists at one point. He officially announced his candidature on February 17, 2011.
After initial apprehension, he started to get some attention. He received good luck messages from Spanish midfielder Xabi Alonso, NBA star Steve Nash and talk show Saturday Night Live’s host Seth Meyers.
Since announcing his decision, Wahl had 43 days to be formally nominated by one of FIFA’s 208 federations. And he would realise that breaking into FIFA’s inner circle and get the nomination would be his biggest challenge.
Even his own country, the USA, did not endorse him, fearing backlash from Blatter if he was elected to power.
Still, he managed a meeting with an official of a World Cup-winning country’s federation during the UEFA congress. But the door was shut firmly even before it was completely opened. The official explained that while nomination would mean a public backing, and risking backlash from Blatter, the actually voting which took place on June 1 was a secret ballot. According to Wahl’s account published by Sports Illustrated, the official told him: “We would be more likely to vote for you in the election than to nominate you. Nominating you is impossible.”
He went on to meet officials from around 150 FAs, all of whom had similar replies. The fear within them to go against Blatter meant Wahl could not even manage to get a nomination. That year, Blatter went on to be re-elected ‘unopposed’ while Wahl returned to the grounds, covering the sport. He, however, learnt a crucial lesson.