By J Hutcherson – WASHINGTON, DC (Dec 6, 2011) US Soccer Players — For those of you still following the story of FIFA's bid for reform, earlier today world soccer's governing body announced a delay in releasing what is now being commonly referred to as 'the ISL file.' For those needing a quick reminder, the expectation is that the release of that file will show who received money during the 1990's when International Sports and Leisure was FIFA's official marketing partner.
That partnership ended with ISL's bankruptcy and rumors that significant FIFA bureaucrats had been bribed by ISL as part of doing business. In terms of impact, that was the major moment in FIFA president Sepp Blatter's announcement on October 21st that his organization was committed to becoming more transparent.
Blatter might have stressed the committee structure that's intended to realign FIFA's ethical compass, but it remains the ISL case that still looms large almost a decade later. The reason for that is simple. The rumors have always been that ISL's bankruptcy centered on their inability to both make money and pay individual FIFA officials what they expected in return for voting to continue to do business with ISL. It's the votes for bribes scandal that never happened in full view of the public, with ISL going out of business, FIFA righting its own finances, and the case mainly serving as fodder for critics of FIFA without the necessary specifics.
Why? Three years ago, FIFA was drawn into a court case in Switzerland over those allegations, but FIFA paid back the full amount of money supposedly spent by ISL on bribing FIFA's own officials. As part of the deal, the ISL file was sealed. Without the specifics, the accusations remain vague and unproven.
In a statement on Tuesday, Blatter said:
FIFA has been working intensively over the past few weeks with its lawyers and legal team to be able to publish the ISL file at the next meeting of the FIFA Executive Committee in Japan on 17 December 2011. It was my strong will to make the ISL file fully transparent at this meeting. I have now been advised that as a result of the objection of a third party to such transparency it will take more time to overcome the respective legal hurdles. This does not change my stance at all. I remain fully committed to publishing the files as soon as possible as an important part of my many reform plans for FIFA, which include handling the past as well as preparing the future structure of the organisation.
And so he should. It would be almost impossible for Blatter to take a step back from releasing the ISL file at this point. FIFA's project for transparency hinges on it being made public, regardless of the ramifications. It's those ramifications that continue to loom large.
Now do we think that the eventual release of this file will be the dramatic moment that shakes FIFA to its core? Probably not, but it would certainly be the next moment in a series of events that confirm what many already suspected about the organization. This is a group of people that allowed themselves to become isolated from the norms of how non profits and corporations operate, adjusted their own ethics to allow for things that might have been explainable internally but would look suspect in public, and let a lot of things go that in retrospect created the scenario they're currently trying to put in the past.
Which begs the question why release the file at all? Too much could become common knowledge for this to just be a PR move. It's also not the kind of thing that organizations do to quickly put in the past and move on. When that file becomes public, the likelihood is other important people in FIFA will fall. FIFA knew that when they authorized Blatter to make the announcement.
As it stands, the ramifications of what might be in that file led to an International Olympic Committee investigation of former FIFA president Joao Havelange. On Monday, Havelange resigned as a member of the IOC, with that group ending their investigation. At issue? Money supposedly taken during the ISL era when Havelange was running FIFA.
Havelange isn't the only one that has dual positions in FIFA – where he's still the honorary president – and the IOC. That's a list that includes high ranking FIFA officials, and the IOC investigation into what's supposedly a list of FIFA members who took ISL money remains open. Actually releasing the ISL file would make that investigation significantly easier.
Again, we return to what's in it for FIFA. Moves for greater transparency are laudable, but the ISL file doesn't exist in a vacuum devoid of any impact on current events. At the same time, it might not be the smoking gun so many FIFA critics expect. FIFA knows what the file contains and what the likely impact will be. Whatever losses it will cause, FIFA seems willing to allow that to happen.
So here we are, waiting for a court case that's already been settled to become public knowledge. For FIFA's administrators, this is already an instance of what will happen next.
Comments, questions, solutions to problems that have yet to present themselves. Please, tell me all about it.