The journalist who began exposing FIFA corruption nearly ten years ago with the BBC's Panorama has called on the corporation to “examine its catastrophically bad reporting of FIFA corruption”.
And freelance Andrew Jennings has described the majority of British media coverage of FIFA – exempting The Sunday Times investigative team, Insight – as “appalling”.
The Sunday Times this year won the Paul Foot Award for its extensive investigation into corruption around Qatar's successful bid to host the 2022 World Cup.
Despite the fact the BBC’s flagship programme Panorama has run several FIFA exposes with Jennings, he was particularly critical of the corporation when he spoke to Press Gazette yesterday.
Asked about the role the British media has played in exposing the world footballing body, Jennings said: “Let’s be clear: in the UK, the only journalism has been me and my colleagues at Panorama and our friends at Insight.”
Jennings suggested that the majority of the British sports media was being “fed by one particular spin doctor working for Blatter”.
And he singled out stories run by the Daily Mail and The Times in the run up to Panorama's 2010 film about FIFA corruption ahead of England's failed bid to host the 2018 tournament.
He noted that Charles Sale of the Daily Mail wrote a story in November 2010, ahead of the Panoroma broadcast, which said: "antagonising the voting FIFA ExCo – with other members sent similar letters to Blatter – with old allegations at such a sensitive time is a questionable use of licence-payers’ money. Jennings said: "He [Sale] didn't know what was in the film."
He noted that The Times ran a story revealing the Sepp Blatter would not be giving the BBC an interview: "Oh what a fucking coup that was!"
He praised the Panorama editors who worked on the story, adding: “So it’s BBC Panorama – not BBC Sport. And I think it is worth recording that every year or two I would stand up in front of the cameras and say: ‘Another exclusive document – a list of bribes.’ All that kind of thing, which is what we do.
“Up in Salford, [former BBC Sport editor] David Bond would be saying in a piece to camera: ‘Sepp Blatter has vowed to clean up FIFA.’”
Jennings added: “The BBC needs to examine its catastrophically bad reporting of FIFA corruption.
“I will tell you that when I go on camera for Panorama with such documents, every bloody journalist in the world [was saying]: ‘Can I have a look at that? Can I see your documents?’ As they should. Quite right. And if they’re friends, I trust them, I’ll let them have a look. Never heard from Salford – none of them.”
Jennings was also critical of BBC Radio 4’s Today programme for its coverage yesterday morning of former Fifa vice president Jack Warner’s television appearance in which he said he feared for his life and said he would prove a link between FIFA and elections in Trinidad and Tobago.
He said: “Who allowed this to get through the net at the Today Programme? Nobody said: ‘Oh, look, we can’t use this crap because he’s on the run!’ There’s an Interpol warrant for him and he’s tried to distract attention.”
Jennings said that Panorama deserved credit for having the “courage” to run the stories despite the importance to the BBC of football rights. He said that FIFA president Sepp Blatter had previously threatened the corporation that it could lose its rights to the World Cup.
He said: “They’re very, very important, World Cup rights, a cornerstone of the empire and without it the BBC would look very unhappy without World Cup rights. Never been a problem.
“There was a threat once from Blatter that they would take away BBC World Cup rights and the lawyers looked at the contract and couldn’t see any reason – the money had been paid, it was a contracted job, he couldn’t do it, it was just a bluff. But they tried it. And fortunately the BBC resisted.”
Jennings did praise the Daily Mail’s former sports editor Colin Gibson, who initially ran his FIFA stories.
“I had a splendid, splendid sports editor, Colin Gibson, at the Daily Mail. I really got all this up and running in the Daily Mail sports pages. And nobody followed them,” he said.
“I have been on Panorama with some exclusive material and you’d think editors would say: ‘Fuckin’ ‘ell – look at that. Get round there, you know, there’s a good story there. It’s football – world football.’”
He also criticised The Guardian. He said: “When did Guardian Sport ever break a story? Alan’s too busy, you see, trying to impress America.”
He added: “No editors go to the sports department and say: ‘Isn’t there anything on FIFA? Looks a bit sniffy.’ So the English media have not done a good job – they’ve done a catastrophically bad job. And I would always go on the record to say that. Credit to Panorama editors and to our friends at The Sunday Times.”
Asked which countries have best covered the scandal, Jennings listed Brazil (“but they speak Portuguese and nobody else does, so nobody knows what they’re doing – fantastic stories don’t escape the Portuguese language”), Germany (“brilliant), Switzerland (“the only problem I have is they’re always fighting over who’s going to use me – and they also pay well, which for a freelance is important”) and France.
Jennings, who has also written books about FIFA, most recently Omertà: Sepp Blatter's FIFA Organised Crime Family, believes his phone and emails have been hacked during the course of his investigations.
He was first approached by the FBI in 2009. Asked why, six years on, the body has begun to make arrests, Jennings said it was because it was now confident it had enough evidence to prove FIFA's wrongdoing.