Panorama’s Andrew Jennings on England’s World Cup bid, FIFA and the media

In an exclusive, two-part interview with A Different League, Andrew Jennings, the man behind BBC Panorama’s recent controversial programme on FIFA corruption, talks about British media, England’s failed World Cup bid, and FIFA.

If FIFA President Sepp Blatter has a list of enemies, it is safe to assume Andrew Jennings is on there, and that there will not be a lot of names above his. The investigative reporter – who presented the BBC Panorama documentary broadcast days before the vote to decide the hosts for the World Cups of 2018 and 2022 – is banned from FIFA press conferences after delving into the murky dealings of some of FIFA’s executive committee members. Not that he minds. Talking to him, the impression you are left with is of someone who relishes shining a light into FIFA’s darkest corners.

I’ve heard from lots of journalists who say they wish they could do what I do but they don’t have the time. There’s too much chasing the quickest, easiest story. They say: ‘I wrote 300 stories last month.’ But who read them? They say: ‘But your website hasn’t been updated in months.’ But who cares?” Jennings continued: “Our reporters are too close to the Premier League. Too many reporters are lazy and unwilling to do the legwork you need for investigative journalism.

The Panorama programme was made possible when one of Jennings’ network of contacts passed him a key piece of information, a document alleging payments made to executive committee members. He says a member of the British Press would not have the reputation to be trusted with such a sensitive file. “My sources know they can trust me. They know I’ll cross the road for a fight – not literally, I’m getting on a bit – and they see me on the wrong side of FIFA and know I’m genuine. How can they trust one of our Press? How do they know they won’t turn around and tell FIFA if they’re given the document that we used in Panorama? They’re afraid of upsetting FIFA or the Premier League and losing their access. I’m banned from FIFA press conferences but I still manage. They chase the easy stories and our media is too centralised to give anything different.

Britain’s Press comes under heavy criticism from Jennings. He himself was heavily criticised as part of the decision to broadcast the Panorama programme, but he has no doubt it was the right thing to do: “People said we shouldn’t have broadcast the programme. I’ve had a 30:1 ratio positive to negative replies about the programme, from football fans, who were glad we did.

“People said it was unpatriotic. Andy Anson is the unpatriotic one. He said in January there were 13 members of the executive committee that were buyable. He said this to a room full of journalists. No one reported it. Why didn’t Anson shop them all and clean up FIFA? The Mail on Sunday reported it last week. Where was everyone else? Why didn’t they do a sting like the Sunday Times? Andy Anson and Simon Greenberg are too happy flying with the upper classes, past the curtain that separates them from the unwashed likes of you and me.

Anson, chief executive of the England 2018 bid and Greenberg, the bid’s chief of staff – who Jennings refers to as Anson’s “sidekick” – were both invited to be part of the film. “Greenberg put out a ridiculous statement about Panorama. But did he or Anson come in front of a camera? No. It’s easy to be tough then, let’s see how tough you are when we’re eyeball to eyeball.

Greenberg and Anson were not the only ones who turned down the chance to be part of the programme, says Jennings – Issa Hayatou, Ricardo Teixeira, Nicolas Leoz and Jack Warner, the executive committee members most heavily featured did likewise. “The BBC has very strict editorial guidelines. They’re there to protect themselves and the programme makers. I sat down with the BBC lawyers and wrote letters to Hayatou, Teixeira, Leoz, Warner and FIFA and said: ‘This is what we are doing. This is why. Please, come and talk to us. And they didn’t. I door stepped them and still nothing.

Having tried to contact the England bid’s chiefs, and with Anson revealing his doubts over the executive committee’s integrity, Jennings is left asking an unanswerable question: “Why did the FA allow the bid to go ahead? They know what FIFA is like. They wasted £15m. £15m that our game needs. Grass roots football in this country needs that money and it’s gone on a bid we were never going to win. You might not agree with everything Gordon Brown did but at least he refused to give the bid any money.

“I feel sorry for the Australians. They lost and the taxpayers are the ones who paid for their bid. And now Les Murray comes out and says FIFA are in big trouble. Give me a break. For Les Murray to come out and say that is ridiculous,” said Jennings. Murray is a member of FIFA’s ethics committee and described the decision to award the 2022 edition to Qatar as “lunacy”, adding “No one will believe Qatar won this process legitimately.” But, says Jennings, Murray and the Australia bid have their own questions to answer: “Murray has no credibility. The ethics committee is appointed by Blatter for a start. But Murray speaks Hungarian, [Australia 2022 chairman] Frank Lowry speaks Hungarian, [bid advisor] Peter Hargitay speaks Hungarian. Nice little club they’ve got there.”

Hargitay, formerly a consultant on England’s 2018 bid, was dispensed with by the FA in June 2008, a decision Jennings applauds. “The best thing the FA ever did was get rid of Hargitay. I don’t know if the FA or the English game is clean. I stick to the international stuff – there’s only so much time. But they made one good decision in getting rid of Hargitay.” Indeed, Jennings’ website devotes a five page section to Hargitay alone, covering allegations stretching back to the 1980s.

A similar lapse of time was one of the reasons FIFA gave for ignoring Jennings’ accusations, but Jennings rejects this immediately. “Some of the Panorama allegations were from 1989, but the people are still there! When the police find a dead body they don’t just stop looking for the murderer after time has gone on. FIFA say the allegations are historic but the people are still there. It goes back to 1974 when Joao Havelange became president. His predecessor, Sir Stanley Rous, was not perfect and he misjudged a lot of things but he was clean.

Read Part Two of the interview by clicking here.

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