For decades, British investigative reporter Andrew Jennings has exposed corruption at the highest levels in global sports.
Repeatedly, his relentless, painstaking work has paid off. It has led to major scoops that shed light on problems that plagued — and continue to plague — the Olympic movement and the IOC, global soccer and FIFA.
In short, the fearless inquisitor is one of the most important journalists of the past four-plus decades.
One moment from 2002 encapsulates his career. Jennings asked then-FIFA president Sepp Blatter at the end of a news conference if he had ever taken a bribe. A denial was blurted out.
“How rude (was the press corps’ reaction). In the space around me were well-dressed reporters and they made it clear that they’ve got nothing to do with this sort of nonsense,” Jennings recalled by phone from the United Kingdom this week. “According to them, it was a waste of time. . .”
But the wheels were in motion.
Six weeks later, he was approached by a high-ranking FIFA official. “I’m at a midnight meeting in Zurich in a dark street and I’m pulled into a room and there’s a guy with a whole load of documents,” Jennings has said, according to straitstimes.com.
Step by step, he began building his investigation against FIFA, and in 2006 he issued some of his key findings in a BBC “Panorama” expose, “The Beautiful Bung: Corruption and the World Cup.”
Fast forward to May 2015, when Jennings tweeted, “I gave the FBI the crucial documents that triggered yesterday’s arrests. There will be more to come. Blatter is a target.”
In July 2015, he testified before a U.S. Senate subcommittee about the explosive FIFA scandal, which led to Blatter and former UEFA head Michel Platini being issued eight-year bans (that were trimmed to six) by the FIFA ethics committee in December.
Meanwhile, the entire global soccer order has descended into chaos over the past year, with revelations that former FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke, ex-finance director Markus Katner and Blatter had given themselves $80 million in salary hikes and World Cup bonuses over the past five years, FIFA lawyers have stated, according to published reports.
Swiss attorney general Michael Lauber’s case against Blatter and Valcke: “criminal mismanagement of FIFA money,” was reported by ESPN in June. Arrests of top-ranking soccer officials on bribery charges, including over the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar made huge headlines within the past year from North, South and Latin America and Europe.
The crisis is far from over. But, Jennings said, “all of these exposures over the past 18 months, none of the press corps have got them. They wouldn’t know what to do with them. (They say), ‘Please, I don’t want this. I don’t know what to do with it. Can you take it back?’ ”
Jennings’ seminal 1992 book “The Lords of the Rings: Power, Money and Drugs in the Modern Olympics” delivered a revealing look at the shady side of the Olympic movement. And he still does that type of timeless work, Jennings, now 72, has been the model of persistence over the years in broadcast and print media, in books and on transparencyinsport.org, his website.
Jennings’ voice, full of clarity and moral conviction, expressed concise point after point with outrage at the corrupt machinations at the highest levels of global soccer.
“This is the people’s game and yet it’s so secretive,” he told The Japan Times.
He cited the urgent need for genuine transparency at FIFA, the IOC and the IAAF.
Illuminating this point, Jennings noted that freedom of information requests throughout the world provide a mechanism for transparency in society. “You put a request in and after every chance you’ll get an answer, and if you don’t get an answer, you can make a big fuss about it. Do that in sport,” he commented.
Prolific German investigative reporter Jens Weinreich said Jennings set the standard and serves as a guiding light for his own work.
“Andrew Jennings is my friend and like a father for me,” Weinreich told The Japan Times this week. “He has created the modern investigative journalism in the crime field of global sports. He has created a worldwide investigative network more powerful in the long run than biggest media houses worldwide.
“A.J. is the role model for two generations of journalists. He has added the political factor in mainstream sports journalism. He was attacked by many journalists over the years, some of them have worked for (the) IOC, FIFA and other giants at the same time, some of them have been awarded Olympic orders.”
In short, Jennings has been Public Enemy No. 1 to FIFA and the IOC because he never stops digging for the dirt in his pursuit of the truth.
Asked what he expects the outcome to be for the disgraced Blatter’s Court of Arbitration for Sport hearing on Aug. 25 to appeal his six-year ban, Jennings pulled no punches. He said: “Well, he’s going to jail next year, isn’t he? The CAS is irrelevant. . . . The Swiss police have only been in it for about year. They’ve said they will prosecute and they will bring indictments at the end of this year, early next year. And Blatter’s history.”
He added: “They are an organized crime family and I tried to make that clear in my book, and (former FIFA president Joao) Havelange (who was in charge of soccer’s global governing body from 1974-98) didn’t just say, ‘Oh, I think I’ll spend the afternoon running FIFA.’ He turned up and he took very deliberate steps and he milked it for money, and recruited people who were either enriched by it or got a share for themselves or were too scared to say anything.”
Jennings documented this corruption in his 2014 tome “Omerta: Sepp Blatter’s FIFA Organised Crime Family,” which followed “FOUL! The Secret World of FIFA: Bribes, Vote-Rigging and Ticket Scandals” (2006) and then came “The Dirty Game: Uncovering the Scandal at FIFA” last year.
During the phone interview, Jennings appeared to be literally licking his chops about the court deliberations still to come for Blatter and other high-ranking former FIFA officials.
Citing the FBI and Swiss authorities’ around-the-clock work, Jennings declared “the fact is, there’s a very large body of information that is being built up, which will be delightful when it comes to court.”
Producer Michael Gavshon of the CBS news magazine “60 Minutes” recognizes the immense value of Jennings’ work. In an article posted on the CBS News website, Jennings’ “moral outrage” was summed up this way by Gravshon in February: “In this day and age, you do not come across characters like Andrew Jennings very often. There’s seldom someone who works with such feverish devotion and dedication and such passion. It just doesn’t happen anymore.”
To further illustrate that point, consider this: In a video that aired on “60 Minutes Overtime,” a web-based spin-off of the original program, Gavshon recounted these revealing insights about Jennings to Overtime editor Ann Silvio, the website documented: “For years he was saying things that sounded quite outrageous, that people could not accept, people didn’t want to hear. In fact, 15 years after investigating FIFA, everything he said is proven to be true.”
Jennings’ mission to expose the rampant corruption at FIFA was a never-wavering task for years and years. Or as he said during his February appearance on “Overtime”: “. . . I don’t care how long it takes. I don’t care. Because I’ve got a good story. It was worldwide, And eventually it would break.”
Asked by The Japan Times if appearing on “60 Minutes” offered some satisfaction to him for his work, which has resulted in his being banned by FIFA since 2003, Jennings offered this rejoinder: “Well, sadly, it was just another gig. I’ve known the producer for 20 years. . . . But it was nice to tell America (this story) on a big-audience program.”
Does he feel vindicated all these years later?
“I don’t know,” he said. “We have a difficult situation now, we shouldn’t have it; there’s no need for it. But we have a contraction of the newspaper industry. Also, there’s less and less time given to turning stories around, and they are not done very well when they appear . . . and a friend of mine in Germany calls it the ‘he-said school of journalism’ — well he said it.
“So what if he said it. Is it true? You didn’t prove it. You haven’t investigated it. You haven’t got any sources,” the legendary journalist went on, before adding: “I’m afraid the majority of wire-service reporters in Zurich (where FIFA headquarters are located) speak English and do the ‘he-said journalism.’ ”
Issuing a blistering critique on the current state of journalism coverage of FIFA, Jennings blurted out, “The fact that there’s no news at the moment is a comment on the press, not on the fact of the news.”
The interview also touched on the issue of whistleblowers that led to the World Anti-Doping Agency’s investigation of the state-sponsored doping scandal in Russian sports, and the IOC’s decision to not issue a blanket ban on Russian athletes for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. He was asked if the doping scandal will trigger a large increase of whistleblowers opening up to WADA and sports governing bodies.
“That’s an impossibility because WADA and the IOC are far too close,” he stated.
Drawing a parallel between FIFA, which was established in 1904, and the IOC, which began operations in 1894, Jennings said he’s convinced both organizations “have run their course.”
“We’ve had enough of them,” he declared.
“The IOC? Who elects them? Nobody elects them? Nobody even knows who’s a member.”
Meanwhile, for Jennings, “the best bit of journalism I’ve seen for a while was in The Washington Post.” He cited an in-depth July 30 article by Will Hobson that spells out how those at the top reap vast quantities of money from the Olympic machine. The Post headline summed it up this way: “Olympic executives cash in on a ‘Movement’ that keeps athletes poor.”
Now more than a quarter century after Jennings and others teamed up to write the investigative book “Scotland Yard’s Cocaine Connection,” it’s interesting to ponder what makes Jennings tick and stay motivated to pound out articles and books and deliver hard-hitting exposes for “Panorama.”
So how does Jennings’ typical work day unfold?
“Oh, it’s difficult to say because it varies so much,” he replied. “In the morning, when I’m not filming, I’m at my home up in the hills and I check all the wires to see if there are any interesting leads.
“I check to see what they are not reporting, not what they are reporting . . .” he said with a chuckle.