May 28, 2015
The early morning arrest yesterday in Zurich, Switzerland at the prestigious and luxury Baur au Lac Hotel of seven top FIFA officials by plainclothes Swiss police officers was reminiscent of an episode from the Eliot Ness and the Untouchables TV series of the 60s. These men were gathered in Switzerland in preparation for FIFA scheduled presidential election on Friday.
Sepp Blatter, the current president of FIFA, is running for a fifth 4-year term and there are no indications that he might step down in spite of the fact that his senior officers were indicted. Roger Cohen in today’s New York Times says that “he is a man without a conscience,” quoting The Guardian describing Mr. Blatter as “the most successful non-homicidal dictator of the past century.” Mr. Blatter said today, at the opening of FIFA’s 65th Congress: “We, or I, cannot monitor everyone all of the time. It is necessary to begin to restore trust in our organization. Let this be the turning point.”
In all fourteen FIFA officials have been charged by the U.S. Department of Justice with widespread corruption involving of hundreds of millions of dollars over the span of 20 plus years, as well as racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracy. The extradition proceedings to the U.S. are in progress.
United States Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch said: “The indictment alleges corruption that is rampant, systemic and deep-rooted both abroad and here in the United States. It spans at least two generations of soccer officials who, as alleged, have abused their position of trust to acquire millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks.”
Corruption by definition does not happen in a vacuum or overnight. It is the end product of a culture that allowed it in the first place.
When an organization is involved in repeated wrongdoing by a great number of people in high places, and for a very long time, it indicates rather clearly that that organization and its culture are corrupt to the core. We are not dealing here with a case of one bad apple but rather of an alleged conspiracy at the highest level of management to commit crimes repeatedly over a great number of years.
Every institution or corporation has a culture. Culture in this context can be defined as “the way the company does business.” It involves all of the many activities and processes required in order to reach its business goals.
The Ethics and Compliance Initiative lists five elements of an ethical culture:
1. Communicates ethics as a priority
2. Sets a good example of ethical conduct (integrity)
3. Keeps promises and commitments
4. Provides information about what is going on (transparency)
5. Employees perceive that top managers are held accountable for ethics violations
In order to develop an ethical culture a company needs good governance, independent oversight and transparency.
Can the situation at FIFA be remedied? Some people think it is possible. Ben Cohen, a fellow blogger and a friend writes in his Commentary article “America Deals A Heavy Blow to FIFA” that: “it is thanks to American efforts that soccer, dogged for years by allegations of corruption and bribery, just may be on the cusp of recovering its integrity.” Let’s hope he is right.
You can recognize an ethical culture in a company when you hear employees, at all levels of authority say: “this is not how we do things at this company.” or “this is the way we do things here.”
It would be great to hear this from FIFA!