L AST Thursday, the Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA) slammed a life ban on the disgraced former head of Ecuador’s Football Federation, Luis Chiriboga, after finding him guilty of taking bribes. According to reports, Chiriboga was one of the executives arrested in 2015 amid a massive United States-led crackdown on corruption in world football. In a statement conveying its findings, FIFA’s independent ethics committee said it investigated Chiriboga over “schemes in which he received bribes in exchange for his role in awarding contracts to companies for the media and marketing rights to various football tournaments.” Having found him guilty, FIFA’s ethics judges banned Chiriboga from all football-related activities for life and fined him one million Swiss francs. Chiriboga is the third football bigwig to have come under FIFA’s sledgehammer this year.
In February, the world football governing body had handed down a life ban to Oden Charles Mbaga, a referee affiliated with the Tanzania Football Federation, having found him guilty of accepting illegal payments. Previously, in January, former international referee, Ibrahim Chaibou from Niger Republic, had been banned for life and fined 200,000 Swiss francs after being found guilty of collecting bribes.
Instructively, prosecutors in Ecuador have already convicted Chiriboga of money laundering. However, the country has reportedly rebuffed requests by US prosecutors for Chiriboga to stand trial in the United States, a refusal stemming from the country’s policy of not extraditing its own citizens. Until his fall, Chiriboga had led Ecuador’s football federation for 18 years. To say the least, Mr. Chiriboga’s alleged crimes are grave; they amount to criminal abuse of office and privilege. When he was made the head of the Ecuadorian football federation, his electors must have had in mind the progress and development of the beautiful game in that country. As in every other clime, managing football in Ecuador obviously requires expertise, commitment and passion to the game, not criminality. Unfortunately, Chiriboga, like many before him, only saw the appointment as an opportunity to feather his own nest, awarding contracts to undeserving companies, receiving kickbacks and bringing the federation into disrepute. Happily, though, he has been given his just desert even if the blemish he has brought to football administration in Ecuador will take some time to completely vanquish.
At the risk of being repetitive, only a felon would take pleasure in receiving bribes in exchange for awarding contracts to companies bidding for media and marketing rights to various football tournaments. That practice must have discouraged deserving companies willing to play by the rules and deliver on specified projects in time and to the federation’s satisfaction. In this regard, we are in full support of the action taken by FIFA to clean the Augean stables in Ecuador. If anything, such a course of action has the potentiality to rein in those intending to toe the same ruinous path not only in Ecuador but across football federations. If past experiences are any indication, corruption in football is alive and well and may take a long time to completely eradicate. What is not in doubt, however, is that FIFA has shown enough commitment to self-cleansing and it is in this regard that its image will be preserved even while those who choose to be compulsively corrupt among its ranks take actions that effectively amount to sabotage.
We commend FIFA for imposing the maximum punishment on Mr. Chiriboga. That is the way to go. We urge the federation to beam its searchlight on other football federations and weed out felons masquerading as administrators, coaches and referees. Nothing discourages crime more than swift and comprehensive punishment. In addition, however, FIFA must reform its internal accounting mechanisms with a view to fast-tracking the discovery of corrupt activities and proclivities and dealing with them decisively. It must also undertake ethical evaluations of its operations with a view to making football beautiful on the pitch and in the management boardroom.