FIFA watchdog insists watches must be returned

FIFA ethics committee declares gifts contravened guidelines and must be returned.

FIFA’s ethics watchdogs have fired a shot across the bows of international sports federations, their senior directors and officials as well as sponsors over the World Cup watches revelations.

Receipt of valuable timepieces – chronometers, watches, etc – has long been a standard privilege among the sporting elite. Not any longer after Domenico Scala and Michael Garcia effectively ripped up one deal involving FIFA sponsor Hublot and exposed a tracks-covering lie by the tawdry Brazilian confederation.

The verdict on the episode arrived, with perfect cautionary timing, on the eve of a major ethics in sport conference being hosted by the world federation at its Zurich headquarters.

Garcia and Scala’s unequivocal stance on gifts to senior officials will send a shiver of recognition across a wide elite of world sport whose officials have long accepted such gifts as a happy and lucrative perk of the job.

In the initial episode 65 watches created by CBF sponsor Parmigiani were given to 32 football federation leaders, 28 FIFA executive committee members and five representatives of other South American associations.

Three FIFA exco members – reported to have been American Sunil Gulati, Australian Moya Dodd and Jordan’s Prince Ali – reported the watches ‘present’ to the ethics committee.

The matter was then considered by American lawyer Garcia, who is FIFA’s independent ethics chairman, together with Swiss businessman Scala, who chairs the policing audit and compliance committee.

In a statement defining gifts of that value as inappropriate, Garcia and Scala said that the CBF claimed to have paid the equivalent of £5,336 for each watch. In fact the ethics committee had obtained an independent assessment of £16,400 – three times the Brazilian valuation.

The committee said, as long as the watches were handed in by Octber 24, it would not instigate proceedings. Officials given the watches included Football Association chairman Greg Dyke, an outspoken critic of FIFA president Sepp Blatter.

Dyke said he had intended to donate the watch and other items to charity. He added: “During the FIFA Congress in Sao Paulo, a bag with a watch inside was left in my hotel room by the Brazilian FA. I had no idea of the value and it has been left untouched in my office since returning to England.

“I welcome Fifa’s investigation on the matter, including their intention to donate the items to good causes back in Brazil. The fact that gifts of great value are being handed out randomly and often with the recipient unaware shows up a culture in need of change. I had actually set the bag aside in my box of items to donate to charity.

“We are taking steps to return the bag and its contents, which are still in their original packaging.”

FIFA vice-president Jim Boyce said he found the watch in a souvenir bag in his garage last week and would be returning it. Also reportedly returning a watch is UEFA president Michel Platini.

In fact, Garcia and Scala insisted that the delegates concerned should not have waited to be asked or instructed.

Their statement said: “The FIFA Code of Conduct plainly prohibits such gifts. Football officials may not offer or accept gifts that have more than ‘symbolic or trivial value’ . . . CBF should not have offered the watches, and those who received gift bags should have promptly checked whether the items inside were appropriate and, upon discovering the watch, either returned it or reported the matter.”

A second timepiece episode concerned Hublot which sponsors match timing devices at the World Cup and other FIFA tournaments.

In the middle of the World Cup FIFA secretary-general Jerome Valcke had asked Garcia and Scala whether FIFA could distribute two Hublot watches commemorating the finals to exco members as a “gift.”

Hublot had apparently provided the watches to FIFA as part of the sponsorship deal.

It took just 24 hours for Garcia and Scala to respond that such a gift would not only breach the Code of Ethics but also a newly-established compensation policy adopted after the two-year reform process led by Swiss governance expert Mark Pieth.