IHF/UFA/Sportfive: will the legal authorities finally unravel the wrongdoings?

Is there any hope for clarity and consequences?

Is there any hope for clarity and consequences?

In January 2010, I wrote an article with the title ‘Conflict of interest – or worse’. In a nutshell, it had just been revealed in German media that the IHF President had received a personal services contract to the value of 602.000 Euro from Sportfive, the company holding the IHF TV rights for the period 2006-09. The IHF President claimed that the contract involved compensation for actual work that he was performing. This would make the arrangement a matter of poor judgment. But many observers questioned whether there ever was an intention to have work performed for the money, or if it was simply a camouflage for a ‘kickback’, something that would obviously be a much more serious matter. The former IOC President Rogge went public with his displeasure about the story.

Immediately thereafter, allegations about further wrongdoing started appearing. It was recognized that the Sportfive functionaries who had issued the contract had subsequently left Sportfive and started up a rival, UFA Sports. And can you imagine, somehow it was UFA who surprisingly won the TV rights contract away from Sportfive for the period 2010-13! So questions were raised as to whether the personal contract that these people had arranged, had also been intended to gain them some advantages in the bidding process for the new TV rights period. Certainly the new bosses at Sportfive saw reasons to be very suspicious. Could it be that the bidding had been manipulated, something that would amount to an escalation to criminal wrongdoing??

Then nothing much was heard about the matter until late 2011, when there were remarkable media reports about a police search of the IHF offices and the IHF president’s residence in Switzerland, apparently at the request of the authorities in Hamburg, Germany. One would assume that the investigation had been instigated by the new Sportfive management. Documents were seized by the Swiss police, but then nothing has been heard for a long time. People started commenting that it was perhaps not so unusual that documentary evidence would not exist in the case of a bidding manipulation, or that presumably any such evidence would smartly have been hidden elsewhere.

But this week, suddenly news report came out in Switzerland that shed some new light. A court in Bellinzona announced a decision regarding an appeal from the IHF and its president. (See report in the main Swiss daily, Neue Zuercher Zeitung.) Apparently, most of the documents seized in 2011 had been forwarded to Hamburg, but the appeal involved six documents, five of which the Swiss court has now released. One would assume that these documents must have been seen by the IHF as particularly revealing, as their release was so firmly resisted. Accordingly, it will now be interesting to see whether the access to these documents will give new momentum to the investigation by the authorities. And it will be important to observe whether this new turn might make the IHF president nervous or desperate enough to resort to additional methods to cover up the matter, especially considering that we are just one month away from the IHF Congress. While he is unopposed in his bid for re-election, perhaps a firm final conclusion from the German authorities might be the only thing standing in his way!