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January 14, 2022updated 30 Sep 2022 10:56am

Andrew Jennings: Maverick reporter who brought down FIFA

By Dominic Ponsford

Colleagues have paid tribute to maverick investigative reporter Andrew Jennings who died of an aortic aneurysm on 8 January aged 78.

Jennings was the scourge of football governing body FIFA for decades, exposing extensive corruption around how countries were awarded hosting duties for World Cups in a 2006 book and for BBC Panorama in 2006, 2010 and 2018.

He was also an unflinching critic of his fellow sports reporters, who he felt were unwilling to bite the hand that fed them.

Jennings was blamed by some for spoiling England’s chances of hosting the 2018 World Cup when the BBC broadcast one of his Panorama investigations in 2010, days before the announcement of the host countries for the 2018 and 2022 events.

He told Press Gazette: “It was a bid created on sand – we were going on about how wonderful our facilities were when that’s not how the game is played.

“I’ve done two previous Panoramas on this, the second one in 2007 was about the bribes that were paid to help Germany secure the World Cup in 2006.

“They were not paid by the German bid team but by people who wanted the German bid to win and would benefit financially from it. Did no one from the FA watch that?”

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He told Press Gazette in 2010: “Why haven’t our reporters spent all this time turning them [FIFA] over? There are some very good reporters around but they don’t seem to work in sports news.

“It’s time editors started looking at the garbage that you get from sports news reporters. They are probably the worst in the world. They won’t check, they won’t research and they won’t cultivate the sources that you need to get the documents that reveal what is really going on.

“If you got all our sports reporters and shot every one that hasn’t acquired any documents they shouldn’t have, you wouldn’t have any sports reporters in London – and I include the BBC sports news reporters in that.”

In 2015, Jennings gave another Press Gazette interview pouring scorn even on the BBC for its reporting of FIFA – suggesting the corporation was concerned about losing vital sports rights to show the World Cup.

He said: “The BBC needs to examine its catastrophically bad reporting of FIFA corruption.

“I will tell you that when I go on camera for Panorama with such documents, every bloody journalist in the world [was saying]: ‘Can I have a look at that? Can I see your documents?’ As they should. Quite right. And if they’re friends, I trust them, I’ll let them have a look. Never heard from Salford – none of them.”

Jennings’ producer and director on Panorama, James Oliver, told Press Gazette this week: “If you are a sports journalist, there’s always going to be a tension because you’ve got to keep contacts and manage relationships.

“But with FIFA it went beyond that. Andrew was appalled at how sports journalists tended to treat FIFA. It was like a club and he was on the outside. It’s the same culture that led to the Panorama programme Andrew and I made before the 2010 vote for the hosting of 2018 and 2022 being branded as ‘unpatriotic’ by England’s bid team.

“That served Andrew well. He had no agenda apart from exposing a corrupt organisation. Honest people who knew FIFA’s corrupt secrets responded to him and came to trust him completely. They were willing to talk to him and give him documents proving corruption when almost nobody in the ‘respectable’ world of sports would even talk to him. He did more than any other journalist to expose corruption and bring about the implosion of Sepp Blatter’s FIFA.”

Film director Paul Greengrass worked closely with Jennings on World in Action.

He told Press Gazette: “Andrew was a maverick, a true one-off, a legend.

“Behind his preferred facade as the jester of hackery, with his blizzard of jokes and love of the absurd, lay the beating heart of a fearless journalist – principled, obsessive, determined, with a matchless ability to marshall and synthesise complex material from all corners of the world in order to build his case…and convey it with conviction, wit and insight.

“His legacy of reporting on both television and in book form is towering. He was also a great great friend to those – like me – lucky enough to work with him, and to those many young journalists who follow in his giant footsteps.”

In May 2015, the US Department of Justice served indictments on nine FIFA executives for racketeering. Swiss police arrested seven FIFA official in Zurich.

Jennings told the Washington Post at the time: “These scum have stolen the people’s sport. They’ve stolen it, the cynical thieving bastards.

“So, yes, it’s nice to see the fear on their faces.”

After helping to bring down the corrupt hierarchy of FIFA, Jennings semi-retired – living in Cumbria with his wife – award-winning journalist Clare Sambrook – and their two children.

The Times’ obituary on Jennings quotes his advice to young reporters, given at one of the seminars he spoke at.

“Google has its uses, but it doesn’t do what a journalist is supposed to do,” he said. “Shoe leather is cheap. That’s how I get the story. If you walk down any suburban street, there is a story behind every door. There are people who work in factories, good people, that bad things happened to, and they are waiting for a knock on the door.”

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