whistleblower

Football Queensland: The nightmare before Christmas

Extensive whistleblower testimony provided to SPORT & POLITICS shows Football Queensland (FQ) to be riven by allegations of sexual misconduct, racism, bullying and sexism.

It is alleged that its President Ben Richardson – who we revealed in August to have lied extensively on his CV ahead of the federation’s election – rose to office off the back of a mishandled sexual misconduct case.

Further allegations include:

  • misuse of funds
  • culture of paranoia and fear
  • racism
  • sexism
  • faulty HR and recruitment processes

They further bring into question why Football Federation Australia (FFA) has not intervened in the ongoing saga of a state federation that seems to be out of control.

Instead, we understand that the FFA CEO, James Johnson, has partnered with Football Queensland in a pilot project on governance.

Christmas hijinks

When Football Queensland’s staff and directors gather at the Wilston home of its CEO Robert Cavallucci this Friday (11 December) for the organisation’s Christmas party, the bosses of the troubled state federation will be hoping that the event passes more peaceably than the Christmas Party it staged two years ago.

Hosted at the Pineapple Hotel near the Gabba, Football Queensland’s 2018 Christmas party was a boozy, raucous and fun affair. The state federation had flown down members from its zones for a day of meetings, which were to be concluded with a night of partying. The Pineapple has been serving food and booze to Brisbanites for 150 years and offers ‘signature steaks, pub classics, woodfired pizzas and bar snacks’ to its patrons. Its bar, it boasts, ‘projects gentlemanly character mixed with a good dash of larrikin.’ Although it was still only November, everyone was enjoying themselves.

But at the president’s table, the conversation took on a more sordid complexion. A female member of staff had attracted the attention of Glenn Smith, then president, who was deep in conversation with another board member, Tony Davis.

‘He made a lewd and disgusting comment about the size of her breasts,’ said a FQ staffer.

The staff member who was subject of this unwanted attention wasn’t present at the table, but two other colleagues were. Appalled by the conduct of the organisation’s president they reported the comments to Football Queensland’s then CEO Richard Griffiths.

The case of Ben Richardson and the accomplices in the Football Federation Australia, in media and even Sport Integrity Australia

Support Bonita Mersiades!

Serious and unanswered questions remain about how the spurious and illegitimate defamation case against activist, writer and whistleblower, Bonita Mersiades, is being funded, despite questions being raised at the highest levels of the sport in Australia.

Football Queensland (FQ) bosses Ben Richardson and Robert Cavallucci are seeking to destroy Mersiades by claiming $800,000 in damages (plus interest) with a bogus lawsuit, alleging defamation for a story that is nothing more than a factually correct report. You can read about the case here:

  1. How an out of touch federation is trying to destroy Australian sporting hero and whistleblower, Bonita Mersiades
  2. The curious case of Benjamin Richardson
  3. The Ben Richardson Case: Queensland Spin Cycle
  4. The Ben Richardson Case. Mysterious Hack Attacks from Queensland.
  5. The Curious Case of Benjamin Richardson: The recruitment consultant and the dodgy CV

There are many questions about the error strewn legal documents submitted to the Queensland Court by the pair’s lawyer Ashley Tiplady (Mills Oakley) who even managed in one filing to get the name of the website in which this so-called defamation took place wrong, but one fundamental question will not go away:

Who is funding this ridiculous case?

The Curious Case of Benjamin Richardson: The recruitment consultant and the dodgy CV

CV Ben Richardson, July 2020

Football Queensland president Benjamin Richardson has left behind a string of failed businesses, owing the Australian revenue at least $150,000 of unpaid taxes, while a bankrupt company under his control has drawn the condemnation of a liquidator for breaches of corporate law.

Richardson also misled voters when successfully standing for re-election as FQ President last month by circulating a curriculum vitae full of distortions and half-truths

The scandal raises serious questions of FQ’s and FFA’s due diligence processes and is out-of-step with FIFA and the Court of Arbitration for Sport guidelines on integrity checks for senior level office-holders.

Richardson, along with FQ CEO Robert Cavallucci, is engaged in a spurious defamation case against Australian football activist, publisher and whistleblower Bonita Mersiades.

Richardson and Cavallucci are seeking $800,000 plus interest. They want to destroy Mersiades.

Putting this absurd, formidable demand against the backdrop of Richardson’s strange business practices, there may be some important answers.

We have written about the case here:

The Ben Richardson Case. Mysterious Hack Attacks from Queensland.

Over the past week a number of individuals connected with Bonita Mersiades’s fight for justice against a spurious defamation action that is intended to destroy her (remember, the plaintiffs Benjamin Richardson and Robert Cavallucci are seeking $800,000 PLUS interest) have encountered the sharp end of these twenty-first century crimes.

Hacking. Fake email accounts. Denial-of-service attacks.

Cybercrime.

We published our first investigation on the Ben Richardson case last Friday. It has caused a stir in Australia, far beyond the football community.

Only a few hours later, last weekend, and again on the early hours of Wednesday, right after the publication of our third article, this website encountered at least two separate denial of service attempts and was for a short period not accessible.

Investigators have told us these crude attacks were linked to a single computer in Queensland, Australia.

Mysterious.

The Ben Richardson Case: Queensland Spin Cycle

This is part 3 of our series on alarming problems of Good Governance in Australian football federations, on the suppression of free journalism, threats to whistleblowers and, in particular, on the curious case of Benjamin Richardson, president of Football Queensland (FQ).

According to whistleblower testimony Football Queensland hired an expensive crisis management consultancy following publication of articles in the Brisbane Courier-Mail (‘Let’s tackle junior sport’s absurd fees’/paywall) and Football Today (‘Cost of paying increases in Queensland’) about its chairman Ben Richardson paying himself $44,000.

The regional football association may have paid as much as $15,000 for these ‘crisis management’ services to Rowland, which was once Australia’s largest independent PR agency and is now a part of the Fleishmanhillard network. FQ is currently engaged in an expensive and spurious defamation case against Australian whistleblower and writer, Bonita Mersiades over one of the articles.

Benjamin Richardson and Robert Cavallucci, CEO of Football Queensland, instigated by their lawyer Ashley Tiplady (Mills Oakley), want to destroy Mersiades for her factually correct report. They are chasing a grand total of $800,000 reparations from Mersiades –  plus interest – in the Queensland courts.

Not only do they use football’s money for their dubious legal attempt to destroy Mersiades; they waste even more of FQ’s money – which belongs to mums and dads and their kids who pay their fees in good faith – for the services of an expensive PR and crisis management company.

We have written about this dubious case here, and we provided the most important documents that will, perhaps, lead to investigations of relevant authorities.

The curious case of Benjamin Richardson

Football Queensland, 2017 Annual Report, page 7

We need to talk about Benjamin Richardson, the president of Football Queensland (FQ), who is seeking to destroy whistleblower and author Bonita Mersiades via a spurious defamation case.

Richardson and Robert Cavallucci, CEO of Football Queensland, complain of an alleged defamation that is in fact nothing more than a factually correct report by Bonita Mersiades.

Together with their lawyer Ashley Tiplady (Mills Oakley), who claims to have reported us to Queensland police for daring to ask questions (although we still await a crime reference number, despite our repeated requests for one, so that we may perform our civic duty and share information with them), the gentlemen are chasing a grand total of $800,000 reparations from Mersiades –  plus interest – in the Queensland courts.

We explained the case last Friday (‚How an out of touch federation is trying to destroy Australian sporting hero and whistleblower, Bonita Mersiades‘), on the basis of documents, not on the basis of absurd medieval defamation documents, through which the lawyer Tiplady –  whose business we will also take a closer look at – has let down his clients with poorly worded legal briefs.

Richardson and Cavallucci will fail. Tiplady too.

How an out of touch federation is trying to destroy Australian sporting hero and whistleblower, Bonita Mersiades

Whistleblowers assume a special place in sporting culture. ‚These,‘ said Jens Sejer Anderson of Denmark’s Play The Game Institute in a 2017 speech, ‚are the unsung heroes who have shown the rest of us the true picture of the challenges around us. Without them, we would not know the reality on the ground and we would be fumbling in the dark.‘

Photo: Play the Game/Thomas Søndergaard

In our careers in journalism, Bonita Mersiades has been foremost among these brave voices. Sacked a decade ago from Australia’s 2022 World Cup for being ‚too honest‘, she cast a light on one of the most rotten sporting contests in history and her brave stance directly contributed to the US Department of Justice taking long-awaited action against FIFA. Her reputation as a whistleblower, author and activist globally is peerless. Her reputation amongst leading investigative journalists, criminal investigators, law enforcement agencies and academics working on sport corruption all over the world cannot be better.

Nevertheless, Bonita’s contribution to football has always transcended this narrow description as a whistleblower. First she was an activist in an early-century Australian game still struggling to broaden itself away from the national and ethnic rivalries of the immigrants who built the game to the ‚lucky country‘. Next she was a brilliant and formidable executive at FFA as the country staked its place in Asian football. Since the disastrous World Cup bid she has been the author of a formidable expose on FIFA’s rottenness, publisher of a small press, and editor of an excellent news website.

Her book ‚Whatever It Takes – the Inside Story of the FIFA Way‘ is brilliant, far beyond the Australian World Cup bid, peppered with numerous exclusive details – an absolute must-read. And, she donated all proceeds of the book to the Pararoos in their fundraising campaign to participate in international competition.

This is Bonita Mersiades.

Whistleblower Mario Goijman: „Sie haben mein Leben zerstört“

My lonely fight in favor of an honest sport has cost me too much, lawyers fees, trips, publications, justice fees, and the persecution of loyal creditors, that now are executing me and some other FAV members, has ruined me, my patrimony and my health.

Mario Goijman, Whistleblower

Mario Goijman, Köln 2011, Foto: www.playthegame.org, Tine Harden

Es gäbe unendlich mehr zu sagen als das, was ich für einige Medien zusammengefasst habe. Die unendliche Geschichte des Mario Goijman raubt mir den Atem. Einmal mehr zeigt sich, wie die Parallelgesellschaft Sport funktioniert: Whistleblower werden geächtet.

Ich habe Mario Goijman viel zu verdanken, das habe ich im Laufe der Jahre hier mehrfach erwähnt. Seine Präsentation auf der Play the Game Konferenz 2005 in Kopenhagen hat mich lange weinen lassen. Und sie hat mir, so merkwürdig es klingt, Kraft gegeben. Denn Goijman, der kein Journalist ist, hat Journalisten weltweit gezeigt, wie weit man mit Recherche kommen kann. Er hat eine Wahrheit erzählt über die verruchte Branche, er hat unglaubliche Dokumente vorgelegt (leider ist seine Webseite www.volleygate.com inzwischen abgeschaltet). Ich finde, Journalisten können sich an Goijman ein Beispiel nehmen. Das klingt alles ziemlich pathetisch. Egal. Man kann die Geschichte gar nicht oft genug aufschreiben. Mario Goijman braucht Hilfe.

„Bribes as salaries for sports leaders“

Mein Freund und Kollege Jens Sejer Andersen hat vergangene Woche an der Universität Antwerpen einen Vortrag zu einem ewig aktuellen (und derzeit wieder brandaktuellen) Thema gehalten, den ich gern veröffentliche. Es tauchen viele der üblichen Verdächtigen und alten Bekannten auf, ob nun der Handball-Pharao, Ruben Acosta oder Jean-Marie Weber. (Aus Zeitgründen muss ich leider weitgehend auf Verlinkungen verzichten, zu allen gibt es im Blog etliche Geschichten.)

Voilà:

The Magicians of Sport: How the Greatest Corruption Scandal in World Sport Vanished Before We Knew It Existed

By Jens Sejer Andersen

International Director and founder, Play the Game

Usually, I am a great admirer of magicians. People who can make elephants appear out of nowhere or escape from underwater cages hand-cuffed and wrapped in chains, really deserve respect.

There are, however, some magicians that we should beware of, and quite a few of them do their tricks in sport. I am not referring to artists like Lionel Messi or Justine Henin who can make unimaginable things with a ball. No, the magicians I would like to talk about are exercising their witchcraft more discreetly.

They do not seek our admiration over their skills. On the contrary: They shun the public eye so much that they have become experts in one aspect of magic: They know how to make us look in one direction while they do their work in the other direction, and more than that, when we look back we do not even notice something mysterious has happened.

Thanks to these magic abilities, a number of corruption scandals in the highest ranks of sports leadership continue to vanish, even before we realise that they actually exist.

Where were for instance your eyes looking in late June this year? I suppose that they, like mine, were directed at a flat screen TV to follow the last matches in the group stage of the FIFA world cup in South Africa.

Abracadabra! While we were staring on one of the greatest shows on earth, the biggest corruption scandal ever documented in sport disappeared out in the blue.

Did you notice?

If not, don’t feel ashamed. It was not meant for you to see.

While events in South Africa spellbound the world, a dry and formal sheet of paper was produced more than 8,000 kilometres away, by the public prosecutor in Zug, the Swiss canton in which FIFA resides.

On the 24 June, the prosecutor ended eight years of legal proceedings with a statement that put an end to the so-called ISL-affair.

Simultaneously, FIFA noted in a very brief media release “FIFA is pleased that the prosecutor of Zug has finalised his investigations?.

FIFA had reasons to be satisfied indeed. For although the Swiss prosecutor that day confirmed that FIFA officials had received millions of Swiss francs from the ISL company and kept them in their pockets, and that FIFA should pay a compensation of 5,5 million Swiss francss – around 4 million euros – things could have turned out much worse for football’s governing body.

The collapse of a marketing giant

For the ISL was no street vendor of services to FIFA. ISL stands for International Sport and Leisure and was from the early 1980’ies and until its collapse in 2001 by far the biggest sport marketing company in the world. It was founded by the Horst Dassler, whose family owned Adidas.

ISL bought TV and marketing rights from the international sports federations and the International Olympic Committee and re-sold them to media companies and private sponsors. Thanks to its close personal relations to FIFA and other big federations it became a driving force in the explosive commercialisation of elite sport.

However, even a booming company in a booming sector can make mistakes, and in 2001 the ISL collapsed because it had seriously overestimated the value of its products.

When the Swiss administrators took over the bankrupt ISL and started looking at the internal papers, they soon discovered some strange payments. In the first place, the liquidator of the company, Thomas Baur, found that at least 3,5 million Swiss francs (at the time 2,2 million euros) had been paid out in personal commissions and they started writing leading sports officials in order to get the money back.

And in 2004, Mr Bauer did get most of that money back. Not in many small portions, but on one big check of 2,5 million Swiss francs. It would of course be interesting where this sum came from and on behalf of which sports leaders it was paid back, but after hard work from a splendid Swiss lawyer, Peter Nobel – the Federal Court, the highest court in Switzerland, ruled that no names should be named.

Peter Nobel is not only an excellent player in the court room – a magician in his field you may say – he was also the man who issued the big check. And, coincidentally perhaps, he has for many years been the personal lawyer of Joseph S. Blatter, President of FIFA.

But this was only the beginning. Other parts of the Swiss justice had an interest in the ISL, and one investigative judge, Thomas Hildbrand, was particularly active, launching firstly one investigation into how six ISL-directors managed their affairs, and secondly another one into the relation between FIFA and the ISL.

138 million Swiss francs in kickbacks

In 2008, the court in the Swiss city of Zug concluded the first of these two cases, the proceedings against six former ISL directors for embezzling large portions of money belonging to FIFA. The legal case itself ended up with acquittals and mild sentences since the defendants could convince the judges that FIFA in reality had accepted the way ISL handled FIFA’s money.

But in the indictment a stunning revelation was brought forward and confirmed by the defendants in the court room:

Over 12 years, from 1989 to its bankruptcy in 2001, ISL handed out no less than 138 million Swiss francs – then 87 million euros – in personal commissions to sports leaders in order to get lucrative TV and marketing contracts.

The payments were channelled to the private pockets or bank accounts of high ranking sports leaders through an advanced system of secret funds in Liechtenstein and the British Virgin Islands. Some of the kickbacks were handed over personally by the top executive of the ISL, Jean-Marie Weber, who travelled around the world with a suitcase filled with cash.

Bribes as salaries for sports leaders

According to the defendant ISL directors, these payments were a normal and integral part of the daily sports business and a precondition if ISL wanted to sign contracts with their customers.

“I was told the company would not have existed if it had not made such payments,?

said former chief executive of the ISL Christoph Malms, and was backed the former director of finances, Hans-Jürg Schmid.

“It was like paying salaries. Otherwise they would have stopped working immediately?,

he said about the sports officials.

How come that the six directors admitted these secret personal commissions so freely? The answer is simple. In Switzerland this kind of kickbacks or bribes were not criminal until new anti-corruption legislation was passed in 2006.

And although the directors were quite open-mouthed, they did not risk their future career by dropping names in the court.

We only know that when ISL flourished, some of its most important customers besides FIFA were the ATP in tennis, IAAF in athletics, FINA in swimming, FIBA in basketball and for some years also the IOC.

You would perhaps expect that these organisations did react to the revelations in Zug by tracing corrupt sports leaders in their own ranks or at least distancing themselves publically from such malicious practices.

But no: From the international sports community there has only been one reaction to what is beyond comparison the biggest known corruption scandal in sport: Unanimous and complete silence.

After the verdicts in Zug 2008, there was still a hope: Perhaps the third and last criminal investigation could help us answer the simple question: Who took the bribes?

How much did they get each? – after all, 87 million euros is a lot of money, and not that many persons were in charge of TV and marketing contracts. Do these persons still hold important positions in sport?

Unfortunately, the end of the ISL affair this summer did not answer any of these questions.

The settlement does confirm what FIFA has long denied: That FIFA officials have taken millions of Swiss francs from the ISL in return for contracts. And it does oblige FIFA to pay back some of the money stolen from sport.

But even if we assume that all cheques have been paid by FIFA: 2,5 million Swiss francs to the liquidators, 5,5 million Swiss francs in the recent decision plus the costs of the legal procedure – we are still far from the impressing 138 million Swiss francs that went with the corruption. The financial balance is clearly in favour of those who cheated.

Before I go deeper into analysing the mechanisms that allow such a huge scandal to run almost unnoticed by the world public, one more important question arises from the ISL case:

Is the magic over?

Did corruption in sports organisations die with the ISL in 2001, and is the buying and selling of TV and marketing rights now a clean business?

No answers given at Olympic congress

I raised this question during a session about “Good governance and ethichs? at the Olympic Congress in Copenhagen last year where over 1,200 high ranking sports officials gathered to discuss the challenges to sport. The answer from the moderator, Youssoupha Ndiaye from the IOC Ethics Commission, was easy to understand:

“The panel does not answer questions?.

To be fair, the audience was quite amused by that response. Well, perhaps not all – probably not the man sitting a few rows from me, Jean-Marie Weber, the man who once travelled the world with a suitcase full of money.

I do not know which tasks the elegant Weber had at the Olympic Congress, but it cost the IOC President Rogge some sweat explaining Weber’s presence. It was apparently not the IOC itself that had invited him, but to get an accreditation through the strict security measures of that meeting you had to have very good connections in the so-called Olympic family of sport.