Putting a bus squarely through the proposition that justice must not just be done but be seen to be done, FIFA announced on Monday that it would not be initiating ethics proceedings against any of its executives, including one Jack A. Warner, on the basis that there was nothing to investigate.
Nothing? Really? A bold finding you might think, scarcely 24 hours after FIFA had itself suspended the same Jack A. Warner due to his links with Mohamed bin Hammam in relation to separate bribery allegations. Mohamed bin Hammam was, until his resignation on Sunday, the only alternative candidate to Sepp Blatter in this week's FIFA election for the FIFA presidency. Meanwhile, the same FIFA panel exonerated Blatter on Sunday of the counter-allegations made against him by bin Hammam. Blatter will now stand unopposed today in the most one-sided FIFA Presidency election since, well, actually the last one in 2007 when one Sepp Blatter was re-elected unopposed. You may well think that, but we could not possibly comment. Warner promises a “football tsunami” – a little hard to visualise, exactly, but clearly not likely to be much fun for any of those involved.
The corruption scandal currently surrounding FIFA must be furrowing brows within FIFA’s corporate partners. With The Bribery Act coming into force in the UK on 1 July 2011 and having cross-jurisdictional reach, corporates caught by the Act now have to ensure not only that they are free of corruptive practices themselves, but also that any “associated person” they have dealings with is untainted by such practices. Privately, the Compliance Officers of FIFA’s corporate sponsors will be making increasingly strident and uncompromising demands of FIFA that appropriate remedial action be taken, and quickly. With vast sums of Coca Cola and Adidas sponsorship money at stake, FIFA may feel compelled to “move on” certain senior staff to regain the public support of its corporate partners, even if those staff are, in their own minds at least, completely (a) innocent and/or (b) indispensable.
In the UK, third party pressure to dismiss can amount to a potentially fair dismissal on “some other substantial reason” grounds. Whilst an employer must act reasonably in dismissing an employee in response to third party pressure, that does not require the employer to go so far as to establish the truth of any allegations made against the employee. It needs only to show that the third party’s perception cannot reasonably be shaken so as to relieve that pressure, and that the third party’s views are material to its ongoing business.
This is however not about the odd £70,000 unfair dismissal award as would apply in the UK, mere lunch money for the top FIFA executives, but about millions in the short term and much more if the crisis centred on Sepp Blatter which he so airily dismisses is not resolved pronto. FIFA could potentially find itself forced by the court of public opinion to dismiss Blatter even though he has been completely exonerated by a FIFA panel of all allegations against him. Finding someone at FIFA who would be willing to break that news to him would, of course, be another matter altogether, though one imagines that humiliated World Cup applicants David Cameron, David Beckham and Prince William would be willing to make the trip.