Swiss weekly newspaper Weltwoche has published damning detail of an Australian-led campaign to attack Qatar, destabilise FIFA and fund a disinformation campaign against FIFA election candidate Shaikh Salman bin Al-Khalifa.
The paper has access to a series of emails outlining correspondence between various parties that show a funded campaign that as its ultimate objective appears to have the dissolution of FIFA as an organisation.
At the centre of the campaign is the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) general secretary Sharan Burrow who initially set her sights on human rights issues and Qatar and has campaigned against the state hosting the 2022 World Cup. As this campaign lost its global news value the ITUC shifted its focus to campaigning against FIFA and its president Sepp Blatter, and then on to FIFA candidate Shaikh Salman.
As the campaign grew, so did the group behind it. ITUC communications Director Tim Noonan, another Australian, hired Australian PR agency Essential Media Communications (EMC) to launch the campaign against Qatar. EMC Director Gemma Swart started to work as the press officer for Sharan Burrow alongside Noonan.
Their group was later joined by former Australian FA official and FIFA whistleblower Bonita Mersiades, and anti-FIFA campaigner Jaimie Fuller, an Australian, who owns sportswear manufacturer Skins. They are founders of the NewFIFANow pressure group with British MP Damian Collins. Transparency International’s Deborah Unger later came into the fold.
Weltwoche outlines correspondence within the group as their focus shifts from Qatar to FIFA to Shaikh Salman as he emerged as a leading contender for the FIFA presidency.
On May 27, two days before Sepp Blatter’s re-election, the seven FIFA delegates were arrested in Zurich at the instigation of the United States attorney. Blatter was still re-elected but a week later on June 2, he announced his resignation for February 2016. Swart was naturally excited by “Blatter’s exit visa” but was already looking ahead. In an email to Noonan she writes: “Qatar and Russia should now be invalidated. We can have a new assignment. And six months of open path for a campaign toward the Congress”.
On June 15, 2015, Swart wrote a long email to Noonan and asked how they could launch a call for FIFA reforms to make it look more international. Swart also lists a few suggestions. The ITUC tempered her zeal saying a slower approach was needed: “We need to find partners to go along with us, no surprise therefore, very gently”.
On June 29, Swart then sent emails to Alex (Wilks), campaign Director of the civil rights movement AVAAZ and Mersiades.
Swart’s mail is entitled: “Fifa campaign coordination call Tuesday, June 30″. She called for more pressure to reform the football associations – not unlike many others both inside and outside football around the world.
It is soon after this that the group talks about financing a smear campaign against Shaikh Salman. On September 9, Swart wrote to Noonan and others: “Prince Ali just announced that he may run again (for the presidency). We do benefit if he wins and Sheikh Salman loses. We can divert some money for a disinformation campaign against Salman”.
On September 25, the Swiss federal prosecutor opened a case against Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini. Burrow wrote to Noonan, Swart and Fuller: “We should all urge Blatter’s resignation”. On September 29, Deborah Unger from Transparency International writes an email entitled: “Next steps of FIFA campaign” to Swart, Noonan, Mersiades and Fuller: “It looks like both Platini and Blatter hold still (in their position). Would it be worthwhile to briefly Skype to talk about the next steps? Amongst other things: We start a global call in October , in which people can choose the worst example of corruption and FIFA is one of our “candidates”.
On October 7, Weltwoche highlights a conference call that took place between Unger, Mersiades, Noonan, Swart and Fuller. An email from Unger summarises what was discussed. They agreed that the pressure on sponsors like Coca-Cola and Adidas should be increased and a TV debate should be organised between the candidates for the FIFA presidency. Fuller answered: “I propose to keep that secret and invite the candidates to a meeting. At the appropriate time, we can propose a TV debate with the rules of engagement. So no one who has promised to attend can turn back due to schedule conflicts”.
On October 8, 2015, FIFA suspended Blatter and Platini. On October 21, Tim Noonan writes to Gemma Swart and Sharan Burrow in copy: “FIFA publishes an anthem to Syria just when Assad is visiting the Kremlin” (referring to a FIFA article in which the Syrian U-17 soccer team said it was proud to participate at the U-17 World Cup in Russia, despite adverse conditions home). Swart answered: “Can we do something on Syria campaign? We need a picture of a bombed football field to show that this love anthem is just a joke. Could do a good share on social media”.
She then goes on to speak about Shaikh Salman and the need to destabilise his campaign: “If he wants to be invisible as a candidate, it might be worth, now to build pressure and slinging him out of the FIFA candidate pack. Otherwise we legitimize him as a candidate. Do we really want that the February elections takes place without Reform Commission? More we can destabilize, better it is – starting right now”.
How far the parties were prepared to go with their destabilisation campaign becomes clearer in an email from Deborah Unger, who writes to the ITUC, Fuller, Mersiades and the British MP Damian Collins and other allies on December 20: “We have investigated through our Swiss colleagues of Transparency the likelihood that Swiss government could dissolve the FIFA”. However, they found that there was no strong will within the Swiss Parliament to do this.
Recently, says Weltwoche, the anti-FIFA campaign has found critics within the ITUC’s own ranks and union representatives in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka – the main suppliers of labour to Qatar’s construction sites. Sanjeeva Reddy, president of India’s largest trade union, who is also Vice-President of the ITUC, said the workers they were trying to protect in the first place could in fact end up being the most harmed and that they were endangering thousands of jobs.
When reminded of the complaint filed to ILO Kathmandu against ITUC by Nepal’s leading trade union body, INDECONT, for negligence of duty, Reddy reportedly said their experience has been the same. Reddy says the actions of Burrow are affecting the unity of trade union bodies in Asia.
Where will this saga end?