Fink: Turn FIFA spotlight on Murray

ESPNSTAR.com's returning columnist Jesse Fink asks why on earth Australian mover and shaker Les Murray is still working for FIFA.

Sepp Blatter, Les Murray

By Jesse Fink

Les Murray might not be a name familiar to a lot of Asian readers outside of Australia. But he should be.

Murray is one of three Asian members - along with Indonesia's Surya Tahir Dharma and Guam's Robert Torres - who sit on FIFA's 13-member ethics committee, an increasingly powerful organ of football's world body.

Increasingly powerful because over the past 12 months it has been called upon to rid the organisation of allegedly dodgy elements within its political framework: executive committee members Mohamed Bin Hammam, Jack Warner, Reynald Temarii, Amos Adamu and a rogues' gallery of officials underneath them.

Fellow ex-co members Worawi Makudi, Chuck Blazer, Vernon Manilal Fernando, Ricardo Teixeira, Issa Hayatou and Nicolas Leoz can count themselves fortunate not to have joined them in purgatory. Thailand's Worawi and Sri Lanka's Fernando especially so, given allegations that have surfaced in the media in recent weeks. An investigation has just been announced into Worawi's affairs.

So Murray, an on-air presenter for Australian TV network SBS and chairman of the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union Sports Group (he spends quite a bit of time in Asia), has his work cut out, shuttling from Sydney to Zurich in business class, sitting behind a big desk, corrugating his brow, looking learned, sitting in judgment of bad apples and doing his level best for the "good of the game".

He's proud of the role he's had bestowed on him by his pal FIFA president Sepp Blatter, and to be among such exalted company. Murray, who has sat on the committee since 2006, has said himself that all of its members are "utterly honourable and decent men and women who are outside FIFA's political machinery and who have no agendas other than to ensure that FIFA's code of ethics are not breached".

Great. We need them to be.

But this week Murray told a porky on Australian television. And on no less than the ABC's Four Corners, Australia's equivalent of BBC's Panorama or PBS's Frontline.

He was asked, in his capacity as editorial supervisor of sport at SBS, whether there was a "preferred editorial policy" to support Australia's failed World Cup bid. He said there was not.

"SBS [was a] supporter of the bid, but that never was allowed to interfere with editorial independence or editorial process," he told reporter Quentin McDermott.

"No, we had never declared any kind of editorial policy to support the bid." Yet as Four Corners' sister programme 7.30 proved in July, there was.

I know, because as a former SBS freelancer and top-rating columnist for its football website The World Game, I received an email from Murray as far back as June 2008 that outlined a "preferred editorial policy".

The email read: "It is not a good look if we, SBS, the most powerful voice in football appear to talk down the bid or declare it stillborn.

"Given that the bid has great support in Australia, including enthusiastic support by all governments, my preferred editorial policy would be to support it."

The Four Corners interview was filmed before the 7.30 story. Murray would not be interviewed by 7.30 and prior to the programme being aired reportedly had lawyers send a letter to the ABC stating he was ready to institute legal proceedings.

So the question needs to be asked and asked loudly from the rooftops: Does a member of the FIFA ethics committee stating to camera something that has been proven to be false constitute a breach of ethics?

How is such behaviour becoming of an official whose job it is to sit in judgment of the ethics of others?

In my view SBS's sports department had a clear pro-Australian World Cup bid bias on Murray's watch during the 2018/2022 bidding process - despite the network's stringent denials.

In another email Murray, a supposed paragon of neutrality, even suggested I attack the American bid.

"Just an idea but you may want to respond to this Gulati clown in a blog," he wrote of USA 2022 bid boss Sunil Gulati.

"That's if you hold that view, of course. I can't because of my role on the FIFA ethics committee. I can wise you up on the arguments why his claims don't hold much water, starting with the fact that they are all based on money."

He even stated, "as a private individual", post the 2022 hosting rights decision in Zurich last December that something corrupt happened with the Qatar bid, telling SBS Radio: "I'm convinced there was collusion. That Qatar should hold the World Cup is a notion that borders on the ludicrous.

"If you are going to take the World Cup to new lands, why not take it to Australia? FIFA is in big trouble. Nobody will believe that Qatar won this process legitimately - people will probe away asking questions."

Yet just a matter of months later he sat on a truncated five-member ethics committee in judgment of Asian Football Confederation president Bin Hammam, one of Qatar 2022's most important spruikers. (Bin Hammam has been banned for life from football and is taking his case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.)

Outside of SBS Murray published a book containing a story about the Australian captain Lucas Neill that was false and was threatened with legal action. He later backed down and apologised.

Now, in my view, he has effectively told a fib in an interview on Australian television. And this man sits on the ethics committee?

FIFA can't be that hard up for talent. An opera singer could do a better job. Oh wait, that's right: Placido Domingo's hands are already full.

Murray should resign or be shown the door.


Jesse Fink (www.jessefink.com.au) has been called "the man FIFA hates" by Sydney's Daily Telegraph and "one of Asia's best football writers" by Abu Dhabi's The National. He can be found on Twitter at @jessefink.




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