What FIFA and the NFL have in common: A credibility problem

FIFA's self-examination fails the transparency test

If National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell needs some evidence that his decision to, in effect, have the NFL investigate itself over portions of the Ray Rice fiasco was a bad idea, let me refer him to FIFA, the international soccer organization that this week cleared itself of some bribery allegations.

The short version: This is an object lesson on how not to handle a scandal.

FIFA is the international ruling body for soccer, including the quadrennial World Cup tournaments. It awards the rights to host those tournaments – potentially worth billions of dollars – to countries based on a bidding process. The 2018 tournament was won by Russia, and the 2022 event by Qatar, both amid persistent allegations of corruption among high-level members of the committees involved.

So FIFA appointed its own ethics investigator, Michael Garcia of New York, to, well, investigate. He filed his findings recently and FIFA officials, apparently in need of some remedial reading, concluded that it cleared the organization and national bid committees of wrongdoing even though it said some – England and Australia – had damaged the brand through their actions (“Foul!” those nations have cried).

Significantly, Garcia objected to the self-exonerating report that FIFA issued based on his investigation, saying that it “contains numerous materially incomplete and erroneous representations.” He's appealing the report.

From the get-go, this was an investigation with a huge credibility problem. Garcia, a former federal prosecutor, could be the most independent-minded investigator in the world. But he still works for the organization he was probing, which feeds legitimate skepticism – skepticism that seems to have been rewarded by Garia's disavowal of what his bosses did with his findings.

Fortunately, the FBI is still looking into FIFA and corruption (the U.S. was among the contenders for the 2022 games) including the use of a mole.

So what does this fiasco have to do with Goodell and the NFL? Among the unresolved issues is determining when Goodell and other NFL brass learned that Rice had not just mistreated his then-fiancee, but had knocked her out while they were riding in an elevator – an incident caught on video.

Who is drilling down into that issue? The NFL’s law firm. And who is advising the league on its future policies on domestic violence? A committee led by one of its executives.

Follow Scott Martelle on Twitter @smartelle.

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