Negotiation Masterclass from Blatter and Platini – and Conflict of Interest Issues for Coe

How about a Negotiation Masterclass from Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini for a Monday morning?

More details have emerged about the payment made to Michel Platini by Sepp Blatter of FIFA, shortly after Platini decided not to compete against Blatter for the presidency of FIFA in 2011. Of course the payment was unconnected to that decision – in fact, it was made to recompense Platini for work he did for FIA in 1999-2002. So the two men claim.

But the FIFA Compliance committee chairman has pointed out this was a conflict of interest at best, and that if the payment was agreed in 2002 that meant the FIFA accounts had been falsified, as the debt and payment were not recorded after that agreement.

What was remarkable was Blatter’s claim last week that the agreement was not written down – it was a verbal “gentlemen’s agreement”, he said. Then Platini said in an interview with Le Monde that the deal was agreed in Singapore in 1998. Here is how the Guardian reported the conversation it.

How much do you want?’, asked Blatter. I answer, ‘A million’. ‘Of what?’ ‘From what you want - roubles, books*, dollars?’. At this time, there is not yet the euro. He responds, ‘OK, one million Swiss francs per year’.”

All we can say is wow, that really is negotiation at its best. Blatter was presumably tasked with acting as the guardian of Fifa’s money, whilst one would have thought that Platini had some interest in representing his own interests. So this laissez faire attitude to currency is truly extraordinary! We've checked back, and in 1998 the Rouble went through a currency crisis, but we can take a rate of about 15 to the £ sterling as a benchmark. So Blatter was smart we suppose in agreeing Swiss Francs, not sterling, saving around 30% , but roubles would have been a whole lot better! And why didn't he suggest Yen or Lira if Platini really didn’t care!

Equally Platini must be an idiot to leave the currency open and in the hands of his negotiation “opponent”. In 30 years of commercial work no-one has ever said to me, “oh you just decide what currency you want to trade in”. Now the big question remains in terms of why the money “owed” was not paid until 2011, in the run up to the election where he backed Blatter, and Platini has not yet answered that. Until he does so, the whole thing still smells a whole lot worse than teen spirit.

Meanwhile, in other sports and conflict of interest news, the appointment of Lord (Sebastian) Coe as President of the International Association of Athletics Federations has been greeted positively. However, he got rather defensive when it was suggested that the work he does as a “worldwide ambassador” for Nike, and the income he receives from them, might represent a conflict of interest in his new role.

Unfortunately, this is how many people in senior roles react to such suggestions. Many of them honestly believe that they are beyond temptation or reproach, and that may indeed be true. Perhaps Coe is the sort of individual who can act with total objectivity, despite the cash from Nike. He did say this “There are three things to bear in mind here: a conflict is only a conflict if it is not a registered responsibility ." Well, that is simply not true. A conflict is a conflict is a conflict, whether or not it is registered. His statement makes no sense I’m afraid.

The problem is that his reaction is exactly in line with how a less honest person would react in the same situation. Through history, we have seen corrupt people in positions of power respond with cries of amazement, claiming to be deeply “hurt” by even the suggestion that money from a supplier or a nice job for their offspring was linked in any way with the contract they gave that firm or the law they voted for that helped that oligarch.

I'm sure Coe is honest and also genuinely offended by the suggestions of conflicts of interest – but the fact is they do exist, whatever he may feel personally. And whilst he seems to be a good man, a crook would react just as he did. He should give up his Nike work or face that suspicion for as long as he continues to benefit from the firm.

* we suspect this is a Guardian mis-translation of the French word livre, which is an obsolete unit of French currency as well as a book!

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