IHF/Sportfive/UFA: will the evidence be found?

Follow the money...

In a recent article, I expressed the concern that there is not enough exposure of the wrongdoing in our sports federations. I noted that most people seem to think it is better for the image to ‘sweep things under the rug’ instead of dealing with the problems openly. But in the case of the IHF, it now seems that the Chief Prosecutor in Hamburg is ensuring that the there is more than enough publicity. The only question is what, if anything, the action and the publicity will lead to.


In January 2010, I published a comprehensive article following the revelations in the German magazine ‘Der Spiegel’ that IHF President Hassan Moustafa had obtained personal service contracts to the amount of 602.000 Euro from Sportfive, the marketing firm that obtained the TV rights from the IHF for the period 2006-09. While Sportfive and Moustafa argued that the contracts were genuine, in the sense that they required actual work to be performed by Moustafa, there were suspicions expressed to the effect that the money instead was simply a ‘kick-back’ to Moustafa, in return for the IHF decision (‘heavily influenced’ by him personally) to award the TV rights to Sportfive.

Of course, most observers noted that even a genuine contract for services would be highly improper, at a minimum creating a serious conflict of interest, moreover behind the backs of all the Executive and Council members of the IHF. Indeed it would understandably create suspicions among competitors of Sportfive regarding the possibility of manipulations in the IHF decision-making. Media representatives brought the matter to the attention of the IOC President Jacques Rogge, who offered a stinging rebuke by saying that he would never have tolerated such a behavior from an IOC member. Such a public condemnation is, of course, highly unusual and remarkable. Unfortunately, the reactions internally in the IHF did not deviate from the usual pattern of tolerance and subservience regarding the President’s autocratic and questionable actions.

But in the meantime, there had been a new twist in the situation regarding the TV rights for IHF events. Robert Mueller von Vultejus, the person responsible at Sportfive, had left and joined RTL’s UFA Sports Division, and suddenly UFA beat out Sportfive and obtained the contract for the 2010-13 period. While initially the main reaction was simply one of surprise, persistent rumors now started emerging that perhaps not everything in the bidding process had been above board. Of course, any such wrongdoing rarely causes some physical evidence to be left behind, and any revelations would typically have to be based on the testimony of eyewitnesses. And this in turn would be a rare development, especially if one is dealing with an organization characterized by despotism and a downtrodden staff.

The possibility that ‘issues’ may have existed with respect to both TV contracts, that with Sportfive for 2006-09 in the order of 30 Million Swiss Francs, and that with UFA for 2010-13 for about twice that amount, is now causing confusion and speculation on the part of media and other observers. Is the focus of the German authorities and this week’s police action in Basel and Hamburg mainly on the personal services contract coinciding with the 2006-09 TV contract, or is it perhaps rather on the 2010-13 contract and the suspicions of wrongdoing in that regard? The media reports and their sources seem to differ on that point.

As just noted, the money involved is substantial, and some reports suggest that the Prosecutor is mainly dealing with charges of ‘bribery and corruption in commercial transactions’, i.e., the way in which the personal services contract for Moustafa could be viewed. But other reports suggest that, apart from Moustafa’s role, the real focus is on UFA and Mueller von Vultejus. This would suggest a focus on the 2010-13 contract and that could be supported by indications that the police raid in Hamburg apparently also involved the offices of UFA and the residence of Mueller von Vultejus. One would hope that the German authorities would be prepared to shed light on these questions. While either focus is a matter of serious concern for IHF and for Moustafa personally, in all fairness the possible culpability on the part of Sportfive and/or UFA and specific individuals needs to be clarified.

There are media reports to the effect that ‘revealing documents’ have been found during the police raid. This is almost difficult to believe. It is hard to imagine that Moustafa would be leaving any incriminating documents where the police could legitimately be searching for them. Similarly, is it realistic that managers at Sportfive or UFA would be so naïve about any hypothetical wrongdoing? And, again, if the IHF bidding procedures were to have been ‘flawed’, it seems that witnesses, not paper trails, would be the only way of finding out. But as I think the world of handball deserves to know the truth, I certainly hope that the police raid will turn out to have helped bring about clarity.

Finally, while important questions remain to be answered and precise culpability still needs to be determined, it seems that the shift from earlier rumors and innuendos to a decision by the German prosecutor that there is a sufficient basis to undertake this week’s raids, raises the basic question: how can a continuation of the Moustafa regime be tolerated, no matter what is the precise outcome? Has not enough damage been caused to the image of handball? After all, remembering many other issues, such as the Olympic qualifying for 2008, have we not had enough?? In a few days the European Handball Federation (EHF) will have a major celebration of its 20th anniversary, an existence generally characterized by integrity and fair play. But is such an introverted or insular celebration enough? Does not the EHF also need to lead the fight for urgent change towards democracy, decency and transparency at the global level!? (9 Nov 2011): World Handball President in the crosshairs of German prosecutor (German):

Tages Woche (11 Nov 2011): Raid in Basel – IHF President Moustafa is said to have plugged 602,000 Euros (German):’000-Euro-eingesteckt-haben.htm

Sportcal (10 Nov 2011) IHF and Sportfive Offices Searched in Investigation into Moustafa’s ‘Commercial Transactions’:

Associated Press (11 Nov 2011): Handball Federation President faces bribery probe: