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Commentary written by Alan Tomlinson, March 2022

Following the death in early January 2022 of the investigative journalist Andrew Jennings, German investigative reporter Jens Weinreich led a tremendous networking, organizational and editorial initiative, stimulating several dozen researchers, journalists, sport and/or activists and more  – astonishingly, even the delusional, disgraced Joseph “Sepp” Blatter, former FIFA general secretary and president – to produce commemorative pieces on Andrew and his work. This generated a torrent of tributes and commentaries from around the world. These are to be found in a riveting collection edited by Jens in his innovative “magazine for Olympic education”, Sport & Politics No.3, February 2022. They include a piece co-written by Alan Tomlinson (that’s me) and John Sugden (Emeritus Professor, Sociology of Sport at the University of Brighton): it’s entitled “Hunger for documents: On the cooperation of investigative journalists and investigative academics”, pp. 30-31.  

Andrew Jennings had a pedigree of pioneering, revelatory investigations under his belt before he turned his attention to the world of sport governance and, along with his collaborator Vyv Simson, produced the blockbuster book The Lords of the Rings: Power, Money & Drugs in the Modern Olympics, published in 1992. This book was an inspiring intervention in the world of sports, portraying in vivid observational detail and with extensive and distinctive documentary and oral sources the self-aggrandizing agendas of many of those who sought high positions and influence in the two most influential sport governance bodies in the world, the IOC (International Olympic Committee) and FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association). These institutions were formed in 1894 and 1904 respectively, and along with the IAAF – initially the International Amateur Athletic Federation, founded 1912, renamed the International Association of Athletics Federationsin 2001, and latterly rebranded, in 2019, as World Athletics – formed the focus of Symson and Jennings’s revelatory text. The book was not just a story of incremental growth of international sporting competition; rather, it fired up a narrative of geopolitical rivalries across world sport governance, and a transformation of power from the established elites of Anglo-American and Central European countries. Havelange’s election to the FIFA presidency, we read in Lords of the Rings, “marked the beginning of a new Latin dominance in the running of world sport … a dramatic shift away from its former Anglo Saxon control and its much proclaimed amateur values”. The IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch elected in 1980 was from Barcelona, a former political lackey of Spain’s fascist dictator Franco; the FIFA president João Havelange elected in 1974 was a Brazilian lawyer and businessman, dealing in chemicals and transport, and steel imports and exports; at the helm of the IAAF from 1981 was lawyer and construction boss Primo Nebiolo from Italy. These were the new Lords of the Games, wheeling and dealing within and across emerging global networks of sport business and megaevents, creating wider and wider gaps between the rhetoric and hyperbole of their institution’s stated missions, and the amoral, collusive and often criminal practices in the administration and governance of their sports and megaevents.

In 1984 I had co-edited a collection of essays that brought a critical perspective to our understanding of the history of the Olympics: Five-Ring Circus: Money, Power and Politics at the Olympics showed the ideological work that was accomplished by the Olympics in a globalizing world. Two years later in Off the Ball: The Football World Cup, co-edited with Garry Whannel, my individual chapter – “Going Global: the FIFA Story”- traced the key influences upon FIFA as the World Cup became a global commodity reshaped by commercial influences and emerging international media markets. When I read the Symson and Jennings book a few years later I knew that the trends and trajectories identified in those two little Pluto Press paperbacks were all but unstoppable, and yet the story of their excesses, evasions and hypocrisy was begging to be told in full. It was then that I determined to concentrate in future research upon those contexts and foci using a more explicit and ambitious investigatory framework. It would be necessary to leave the desktop and the library and get out there to see how these global institutions actually operated.

Andrew Jennings’s generosity in opening up access to his own documentary sources was hugely helpful and in the era of the xerox I was kept busy copying, or overseeing the copying of, invaluable documents that helped me establish vital lines of enquiry, make informed approaches to people and organisations, mix the history with the sociology, the cultural with the political. Working with John Sugden, then at Ulster University and soon to join me at the University of Brighton, we produced in 1998 our own ground-breaking study FIFA and the Contest for World Football: Who Rules the Peoples’ Game? We turned up at World Cup events; European, Asian and African championships; Champions League finals across Europe; UEFA and FIFA Congresses; meetings of the International Football Association Board (IFAB). FIFA general secretary and soon-to-be president Sepp Blatter labelled us “the English professors”. We generated more and more contacts and went on to write together two more accounts of the murky inside world of FIFA personnel and their global football politics: Great Balls of Fire: How Big Money is Hijacking World Football(1999), and Badfellas: FIFA Family at War (2003).

In investigative work across continents and years we accumulated extensive documentary evidence on the dubious and often crooked practices of FIFA-connected football officials. This informed my book FIFA: The Men, the Myths and the Money (2014), which preceded the explosion of the ticking time-bomb when the FBI and the US Department of Justice (D0J) allied with the Swiss authorities in raiding the luxurious Baur du Lac Hotel in Zurich the following year; indictments for corruption and fraud were served upon 9 FIFA-related football officials, and 5 co-conspirators in what the DoJ branded as a generation-long and worldwide criminal enterprise. FIFA was damned as a RICO (racketeer-influenced and corrupt organisation). There is no doubt that without the assiduous investigative work of Andrew Jennings things might not have got to that spectacular dénouement in May 2015.

For a while Andrew was attached, as an Honorary Fellow, to the University of Brighton’s Chelsea School. His publications were included in an early RAE (Research Assessment Exercise) submission, helping us establish the national profile of our critical social scientific work on sport. During the 1998 FIFA (men’s) World Cup Final tournament in Paris, he stayed in the accommodation that John (Sugden) and I had rented on the back of an advance from our publisher for our 1999 book. I visited his home in London on more than one occasion to obtain exclusive sources or contacts. Andrew held our students spellbound in guest lectures that stimulated ambition and boldness in those interested in the background politics of sport culture, helping them re-imagine the role of the sport journalist.

In the contribution to the magazine that commemorates Andrew, John (Sugden) and I recall some highlights of our relationship with him, and cross-reference important pieces that Andrew wrote urging journalists and academics alike to ask the right questions at the right time, to find documents and further corroborating documents and sources. It was challenging at times to stick to such principles, and there were ethical dilemmas on more than one occasion in the field, but the results were well worth the risk. And they also provided the University of Brighton with a distinctive reputation for critical work in the investigative sociology of sport.

When Andrew died, I thought of some of our times together at, say, the 1998 Paris Congress (we are pictured together in a photograph in the Sport & Politics issue, along with John Sugden and Jens Weinreich). My daughter Alys, a photographer, shot images of FIFAcrats at that Paris congress and World Cup for the 1999 book, and met Andrew there. She never really knew him closely, but recalls a “bold and brash”, though also “warm and generous” figure expressing encouragement and support for her work. Good editing – of academic as well as journalistic writing – often demands careful and ruthless scrutiny of the oft-overused adjective. But there’s not much doubt that Alys was spot-on with her adjectives in relation to the unforgettable Andrew Jennings.


Alan Tomlinson

Emeritus Professor of Leisure Studies

University of Brighton UK