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Volume 762: debated on Monday 1 June 2015


My Lords, with the leave of the House I beg to repeat a Statement read earlier by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport in the other place.

“Mr Speaker, last Friday FIFA’s members had the opportunity to embrace the overwhelming calls for change coming from football fans around the world. They failed to do so. FIFA’s support for its discredited president was incredibly disappointing, but it will not have surprised a footballing public who have become increasingly cynical as the allegations of misconduct and malfeasance have piled up. FIFA needs to change, and change now, and I can assure the House that the Government will do everything in their power to help to bring that change about.

I have just spoken to the Football Association chairman, Greg Dyke, and reassured him that we stand behind the FA’s efforts to end the culture of kickbacks and corruption that risk ruining international football for a generation. I agreed with him that no options should be ruled out at this stage.

Let me also reiterate the Government’s support for the action of the American and Swiss authorities. Earlier today, I spoke with the Attorney-General, and we agreed that the British authorities will offer full co-operation with American and Swiss investigators and that, if any evidence of criminal wrongdoing in the UK emerges, we will fully support the Serious Fraud Office in pursuing those involved.

FIFA’s voting system is designed to support the incumbent, and it returned a predictable result, but there is no doubt that what remained of Sepp Blatter’s credibility has been utterly destroyed. The mere fact that more than 70 national associations felt able to back a rival candidate shows that momentum against him is building. We must now increase that pressure still further. It is up to everyone who cares about football to use whatever influence they have to make this happen.

I am sure that fans the world over will be increasingly vocal in their condemnation of the Blatter regime, and FIFA’s sponsors need to think long and hard about whether they want to be associated with such a discredited and disgraced organisation. For the good of the game, we must work together to bring about change. For the good of the game, it is time for Sepp Blatter to go”.

My Lords, since we last discussed football in your Lordships’ House, we have had bad news and good news. The bad news is that Sepp Blatter was re-elected FIFA president last Friday, albeit, as the noble Earl said, with 70 national associations feeling able to back a rival candidate. The good news is, of course, that on Saturday Arsenal won the FA Cup.

We all have a responsibility to protect our game—government, governing bodies, fans and businesses all have a role. We need to establish common cause and take united action to combat the culture of kickbacks and corruption. Will the Minister therefore support my honourable friend’s call in the other place for an urgent summit bringing together the football authorities, British sponsors and broadcasters? Will he also reassure the House that, rather than wait for the banks to investigate any potential misuse of funds, the police authorities will act immediately on the reports we have seen?

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for those questions. He wishes the Government to convene a summit. We already have a common position. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State is in constant liaison with Greg Dyke, has spoken to him again today, and will speak again before the end of the week before Greg Dyke goes to Berlin for the football final there and a congress being held by UEFA beforehand. We will continue to work with the sponsors, the home nations’ football associations and our counterparts across Europe. I reiterate that our Minister for Sport has written to all her counterparts throughout Europe on this issue.

The noble Lord also mentioned the situation relating to any possible police investigation. As I understand the situation at present, Barclays, Standard Chartered and HSBC are carrying out an internal investigation. However, I also know that the SFO and the FCA will be keeping a very keen eye on what is going on.

My Lords, how do the Government respond to the comments of the FA chairman that while an FA boycott of FIFA might have little impact, a boycott by UEFA—a move he would personally support—would have a real impact? What are the Government doing to try to make this happen? In particular, have they had any discussions with France and Spain, who actually voted for Sepp Blatter’s re-election, to try to persuade them to take part in a co-ordinated European boycott?

My Lords, the noble Baroness mentioned a boycott of FIFA by UEFA and basically called for a possible boycott of FIFA competitions such as the World Cup. This was described as the nuclear option by the Secretary of State last week, and is something that we will, of course, have to keep under review.

The Achilles heel of FIFA is money. The longer we leave it before we take positive action as a Government, a Chamber and a Parliament, the more the issue will fade away. We ought to call together all the sponsors. They hold the key to this. If the sponsors were to withhold their funding, I assure the Minister that there would be a change of heart immediately. The Government have to take a lead in this. The Minister has already mentioned this, for which I am grateful, but we must keep the pressure on. Now is the time. Oh yes, and Andy Murray has just won.

My Lords, the noble Baroness mentioned sponsorship. She is quite right about its importance and about the importance of the supply of money to these organisations. We were very pleased to hear the statement made by Visa in this regard. The sponsors have to be very aware that, if they are not careful, their brands will be tainted by the actions of FIFA.

My Lords, I should declare an interest as I was directly involved with the English bid—a rather good bid, I thought. There is one fundamental point which I hope the Government will press strongly, and that is the importance of the expansion of football in Africa and in Asia. We should not let Sepp Blatter have a monopoly of that issue. It is very important for us to declare our support and, of course, to make the point that the interests of football in Africa and in Asia will be much better served by a clean and honourable FIFA, one without Sepp Blatter.

My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right. I know only too well from acquaintances of mine in west Africa how important football—particularly European football—is in west Africa, and grass-roots football is so important. We have to find a way of countering the ill effect that FIFA has on this issue.

My Lords, as the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, pointed out to us in a newspaper article today, these problems are not simply related to FIFA; these are prominent problems in international organisations, particularly, I regret to say, in sport but in other areas, too. Is it not clear that, whatever action is taken—and I support those Members who say that there must be concerted action, because one-off gestures will have no impact at all—the objective should not be simply the demise of Mr Blatter? We must also work, at the same time, for a constitution for FIFA—a new constitution which is open, transparent and fit for purpose, because clearly the existing one is not.

My Lords, unfortunately I did not have the pleasure of reading my noble friend’s column today. Perhaps I may repeat something that I said on Thursday:

“These revelations have shown how important it is for sports bodies to uphold the highest standards of governance, transparency and accountability”.—[Official Report, 28/5/15; col. 56.]

That is what it is all about, as I think the noble Lord was saying.

My Lords, does the noble Earl agree that this demonstrates that government cannot remove itself from these issues to do with worldwide sport and has to remain fully committed? Should that not be a lesson that we learned from the Olympic experience—the fact that Governments are required to make sure that it is done properly? If we try to stand back again, we will merely get the same problems over and over again.

I think I can agree in part with what the noble Lord, Lord Addington, said. However, it is up to FIFA and UEFA to get their house in order. They run football.

My Lords, to go just a tiny bit further than the noble Lord, Lord Cunningham, went a moment ago, I would add that the problem is confined not just to sport. There seems to be a tendency for supranational organisations all too easily to become fiefs—or fiefdoms; we might get confused with fief and FIFA here, for which I apologise. I know that that is much too big a subject for my noble friend to solve this afternoon. However, there needs to be some way of getting accountability into these supranational organisations. By the way, I am not tarring all of them with this brush; there are, of course, many that are extremely well run. While we are on the subject of sporting news, I understand that rain is still stopping play.

My Lords, I think that part of my noble friend’s question was a little outside this Statement. I should reiterate the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, and my noble friend Lord Moynihan made on Thursday regarding the Bribery Act. We are looking at this issue. I hope to update those noble Lords by letter and place copies in the Library.

Following the preceding exchanges on the international aspect of these organisations, should we not congratulate the United States Department of Justice on the initiative it has taken, while also recognising that Britain, with its remarkable reputation on the rule of law, ought to be up there with it and taking the initiative with some of these other organisations that we are concerned about?

The noble Lord is quite right that we should congratulate the United States Department of Justice on taking action on offences that took place in America and the Swiss authorities for taking action on offences that took place in Switzerland. In this country we will be watching what happens very closely.

My Lords, it is tempting to wring our hands at the re-election of Mr Blatter, as I think every contributor to this short discussion has done today, and I join them. However, my concern is that once the events of the past few days have passed, Mr Blatter is re-established and the long arm of the law does not catch up with him, things will go on just as they are. In that case, it is very important that the lead that the Minister has taken in this House and the Secretary of State has taken in the other House is followed up. Will he be assured that the Government will have the support of everyone in this Chamber if he wishes to take an active part in cleaning up FIFA and in reforming the governance of football more generally?

My Lords, the noble Lord is right in many ways. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State is taking a lead on this subject and I assure the House that this will not be forgotten.