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Volume 762: debated on Tuesday 2 June 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the recent arrests of FIFA officials relating to charges of corruption.

My Lords, Her Majesty’s Government welcome the investigations that are now under way into the allegations of bribery and corruption. These revelations have shown how important it is for sports bodies to uphold the highest standards of governance, transparency and accountability. International bodies should be no different, and that is particularly true for an organisation such as FIFA. The Government also fully back the FA’s position that change and reform are urgently needed at the top of FIFA, including its leadership.

My Lords, will my noble friend agree that resolving the crisis of governance in FIFA can best be achieved through its pockets, and where individuals are guilty of corruption, through prison? Will he ask his right honourable friend the Secretary of State to call in the FIFA sponsors which have significant business interests in the United Kingdom and to make absolutely clear to them the importance of adopting FTSE 100 governance standards when determining investments in FIFA? Does he agree that such action is preferable to resorting to boycotts of major sporting events, which will principally serve to damage home nation footballers and fans of the game, not least because some prominent European delegates voted in favour of Sepp Blatter’s re-election?

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for those questions. He mentioned first a factor relating to sponsors, and I will certainly raise it with my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. As my noble friend will be aware, my right honourable friend has already spoken of the need for sponsors to consider the reputational risk of continued association with FIFA, as well as the strong message it will send FIFA if they withdraw. Although that is ultimately a decision for the sponsors, I am sure they will not be in any doubt about the Government’s view of FIFA under Blatter’s leadership. My noble friend also mentioned a boycott of the World Cup. We agree that withdrawal from FIFA competitions by the FA should not happen at the expense of the players and fans, particularly if such a boycott is unlikely to achieve the aims of bringing reform to FIFA.

My Lords, I agree totally with the noble Lord’s stressing of the importance of sponsorship. Yesterday the Secretary of State said in the other place that no options should be ruled out at this stage. Why cannot the Government therefore agree with my honourable friend’s recommendation in the other place that there should be an urgent summit that would bring together the football authorities, the British sponsors and, more importantly, the broadcasters?

I thank the noble Lord for that question, which I think he asked yesterday, and I am afraid he is going to get a similar answer today. We do have this common position with all the parties involved that change is needed in FIFA, including at the very top. We will continue to work with sponsors, the home nation football associations and our counterparts in Europe. I must add that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State spoke to Mr Greg Dyke last week and yesterday, and he will do so again before Mr Dyke goes to Germany for the Champions League final next weekend, when there will be a congress before the match.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is absolutely right to press for reform of FIFA? Does he recognise that one of FIFA’s successes is the development of soccer in Asia and Africa? Will he ensure that any reform does not lead to a retrenchment in that respect, because there is a sign in this country that football is becoming more a business than a sport?

My Lords, the noble Lord is quite correct. The Government’s view is that reform of FIFA is urgently needed, as I said before, but it should not be, and it is not, at the expense of football development across the world. That would suggest that only Sepp Blatter can develop football, and not others; that is clearly not the case. I should also like to highlight the fantastic work that the FA and the Premiership are doing overseas to develop the game at grass-roots level.

My Lords, we have not yet heard from the Liberal Democrat Benches, so on this occasion we should hear from the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey.

My Lords, earlier this year I made a very modest transfer to my son’s account in New York, using one of the banks mentioned in the US indictment. I had to jump through hoops in order to persuade the bank that this was a legitimate transaction. Can the Minister assure the House that the Serious Fraud Office will conduct a forensic investigation into why vast sums of money were paid to corrupt FIFA officials via the British banking system, without any alarm bells seemingly being sounded in any of the banks concerned?

The noble Baroness is quite right—sometimes, when an individual wants to make a bank transfer between different countries, they do have to jump through hoops. Yes, noble Lords can rest assured that the SFO is taking a keen interest in what is happening. It has not opened a formal criminal investigation, but it continues actively to assess material in its possession.