Why all football fans should drink a glass to Andrew Jennings, scourge of Fifa
The tireless anti-corruption campaigner is finally seeing fruits of his labour
There can be too many solemn moments before kick offs – the minutes of silence, the mass clapping to mark this anniversary or that dignitary. Mawkish remembrance must be avoided if such tributes are to have meaning and avoid becoming cliches.
This week, however, there a case to say thanks and show respect and admiration for a fellow football fan.
As you settle down to watch the EPL, doff your hat, or waggle your TV remote, raise a glass – or just nod in respect of the man who brought Fifa to its knees and gave the game back to supporters.
Many football fans around the world have likely not have heard about Andrew Jennings, though they shall be ever indebted to him.
If it were not for this dogged British freelance reporter, Fifa’s disgraced President Sepp Blatter and his cronies would still be command of the game, and, if they believed to be life there, would likely be seeking bribes from Martians to hold a World Cup on the red planet (we kid ourselves, not).
Instead, thanks to Jennings’ persistence and reporting nous, Blatter is suspended and the Swiss prosecutors have opened a file on him. Many of his racketeering lieutenants, who also corrupted world football to serve their own interests and to enrich themselves, are languishing in jail awaiting trial, or are fugitives fighting extradition and prosecution, or are quaking in the beds of their five star hotel rooms as the net, first cast by a humble reporter, closes in.
Jennings comes from the old school of journalism. When he comes up against a wall, he will take a chisel and hammer, Shawshank Redemption-style, and tunnel his way though the brickwork, grit by grit, to set the truth free.
It took him 15 years to bring down Blatter’s Fifa, much of that time single-handedly digging and door-stepping outside hotels and conferences and tournaments, where, within, Fifa delegates lived the high life at supporters’ expense. Day after day, week after week, months and year, Jennings plugged on.
He was regularly abused and threatened by Fifa officials and their goons. He was criticised often by his fellow journalists and dignitaries – especially those involved in the failed 2018 England World Cup bid (the vote was rigged and it went to Russia as intended by the crooks), including UK PM David Cameron, Prince William and ex-footballers David Beckham and Gary Lineker.
But Jennings took it all on the chin because he believed in his craft and the right for the public to know, and besides, he was getting ever closer to the truth.
He turned his attention to Fifa in 2002, attending his first press conference at Fifa HQ in Zurich. He was the first journalist among the vast media pack to ask the organisation the first pertinent question: “Have you ever taken a bribe, Mr Blatter?”
Blatter blushed and seethed at the effrontery. Here was a journalist that had dared to step out of line, who had not cosied up to the spin doctors, who had not lapped up the hospitality and the goodie bags and media passes.
Blatter denied taking a bribe. But Jennings knew the can opener had been attached. Blatter did too, so he banned the journalist from Fifa HQs, a barring that remains.
That did not stop Jennings. On he delved. In 2010, he was he was approached by the FBI asking if they could see his files and if he wanted some help.
He gave the agents his documents on the odious Fifa official Chuck Blazer, the general secretary of Concacaf who ran football in North and Central America. Jennings’ dossier detailed Blazer’s bribes, money laundering and tax evasion.
The FBI pounced. Fearing a long jail sentence, Blazer flipped and became a supergrass, singing and cawing louder than his pet parrot, that often perched on his shoulder, ever could.
Later, Jennings told the US senate Blatter’s Fifa is an organised crime syndicate, just like the Mafia, and about how they hid their criminality behind football.
The US officials disagreed, saying that the comparison was almost insulting to the Mafia.
In May this year, several senior Fifa officials were arrested on charges of racketeering, fraud and money laundering. More arrests have followed, 38 so far.
More are to come. Blatter and his once favoured successor, Uefa president Michel Platini, have been suspended over a mysterious payment of two million Swiss francs. Half of the Fifa men who voted for Russia and Qatar have now been officially accused of corruption.
“Qatar won’t happen,” Jennings told this column this week, after the airing of his latest TV programme, “Fifa, Sepp Blatter and Me”, in which it was revealed that a contract signed by Blatter and disgraced Caribbean football chief, Jack Warner, over a TV rights contract, has led to Blatter being investigated by Swiss prosecutors.
“It’s very simple as to what happens next. I think he and many others are going to jail for stealing football from fans,” he added.
And what about his future? “I’ll rest a bit. But the IAAF doping scandals and cover-ups at the IAAF with Seb Coe at the helm . . That looks very interesting,” he said.
Just before kick-off this weekend, spend a moment in reflection, thanking Jennings, and of course, old-fashioned journalism.