European Investigative Journalism Conference 2008
Workshop: The biggest global scams
Speaker: Andrew Jennings
Date: 22 november 2008
Reporter: Arno Kersten
Brittish reporter Andrew Jennings is not the kind of man to bow down for big name officials. He fondly remembers a press conference by FIFA president Sepp Blatter, where the reporter asked “as agressively as I could: Herr Blatter, have you ever taken a bribe?” The denial Blatter returned went to press making a stirring headline ‘Blatter denies taking bribe’.
“I wanted to send a signal across the room”, recalls Jennings. “I took him down to our level. We’re all bloody people, so is he.”
Jennings has made an impressive career investigating sports officials and corruption. Once an enthousiast runner himself, he nowadays can’t stand watching high level athletics competitions. Sports have been corrupted, he says, sports men and women taking drugs to boost their performances.
“Sports are underinvestigated”, claims Jennings.
During this panel session, ‘The biggest global scams’, Jennnigs discusses two men he’s investigated for years: former IOC-president Juan Antonio Samaranch and FIFA-president Sepp Blatter.
Jennings shows a picture that he says illustrates Samaranch’s love for nazi rituals, which has been “washed out” of the public eye. Pointing to the upheld right arm, he asks ironically: “Why is his right arm more muscular than his left arm?”
The reporter stumbled upon this particular picture when a Spanish newspaper researched a photo book of the Franco regime, in which Samaranch was a prominent figure.
With the Olympics claiming to be “the guardian of all things moral”, this is to Jennings a prudent example of the “Olympic laundry”: a person with a dubious past comes out clean.
Jennings also criticizes the prominent role of commercialism in modern sports. When the IOC states that obesity must be combatted, who can protest to that?, says Jennings. But then again, what does it mean when fast food company McDonalds is affiliated as an important sponsor and the IOC claims “we share many of the same ideals”?
“Besides”, says Jennings, “there aren’t sponsors anymore, they’re partners.”
As with investigating FIFA president Blatter, Jennings has been very patient doing his research. Getting access to documents is a slow and delicate process, which relies on trustworthyness and the assurance that sources will not be revealed. As a method, Jennings makes sure that documents can’t be traced back to a single person, he says. “Dividing blame”, he calls it.
Jennings smiles as he recalls doorstepping Blatter three times for a BBC Panorama documentary in 2006. Having waited for 45 minutes before Blatter arrived into view, with the camera rolling the reporter approached the car that was to take the president away and blocked the door with his knee to buy him just that little extra time to get his microphone inside and get one more question on the record.