Saturday, June 3

Andrew Jennings obituary | Half

The journalist Andrew Jennings, who has died aged 78 of an aortic aneurysm, did more than any other to expose systemic corruption within the organizations running world sport. In the process he helped to ensure that the International Olympic Committee underwent reform and to bring down the bosses of the football governing body Fifa.

This he achieved through applying what he had learned from investigating crime and police corruption as a press and broadcasting reporter. For Andrew journalism was not a job – it was a mission. In 2000 the New York Times described him as “usually outraged and frequently outrageous”.

One of his own definitions of investigative journalism was: “Identify the enemy and destroy them.” But relentless pursuit was backed up by sound tradecraft. Incriminating documents were handed to Andrew by sources he had spent years building relationships with. Some became friends.

At the IOC, the key figure was its president, Juan Antonio Samaranch. Andrew’s first book on the Olympic movement, The Lords of the Rings: Power, Money and Drugs in the Modern Olympics (1992), with Vyv Simson, offended Samaranch, and on his behalf the IOC successfully sued the pair in a Swiss court in 1994 for libel.

Andrew ignored the verdict and resulting five-day suspended sentence. Two more books followed: The New Lords of the Rings (1996) and, with his partner, Clare Sambrook, The Great Olympic Swindle (2000). The Salt Lake City Olympic bidding scandal dramatically demonstrated the corruption and freeloading Andrew did so much to unmask and Samaranch was forced to reform the IOC. Rejecting calls to resign, he stepped down in 2001 after the Sydney Olympics.

Of football Andrew knew little, but he did know how to provoke a reaction. “President Blatter, have you ever taken a bribe?” was his opening gambit to Fifa’s president, Sepp Blatter, and a shocked press conference at its Zurich headquarters in 2002. “I cannot be bribed,” Blatter responded – he consistently denied wrongdoing – but Andrew’s question served as a deliberate invitation to anyone who wanted to help expose corruption at Fifa: Andrew was the man to talk to. It worked, and he was soon being handed plastic carrier bags of documents that made him an expert on the corrupt awarding of World Cups and payments resulting from broadcasting rights, sponsorship and merchandising.

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This approach was not always popular in the UK. In 2010, a source handed over a list of $100m of bribes to sports officials including three members of Fifa’s executive committee. The Panorama report that I produced with Andrew was broadcast that November, just days before the committee voted for which countries would host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. The Sun branded the BBC “Brainless, Betraying, Cretinous” and, to Andrew’s raucous laughter, we were accused of being “unpatriotic” by England’s bid team.

It transpired that the decisions were indeed already as good as made. Three days later Fifa’s executive committee “voted” for Russia and Qatar, and now cries of outrage were directed against Fifa.

Agents from the US justice department wanted to talk to Andrew. He forwarded me their email from him at the BBC, gleefully observing that it was “unwise to do bribery scams in US dollars”.

For Andrew, Fifa was an organized crime syndicate, and I have handed over material about tax evasion by the executive committee member Chuck Blazer to the FBI and the US tax authority, the IRS. Blazer became an undercover informant, and in 2015 seven Fifa officials were arrested on charges of racketeering, conspiracy and corruption. Blatter was banned from football by Fifa that year, and again in 2021.

Andrew was born in Kirkcaldy, Fife, the son of Edith (nee Casbourne) and Edward Jennings, who at the time was serving in the RAF. When the second world war was over the family moved to London, where Edward was a headteacher. After studying at Watford technical high school, Bushey grammar school and South West Herts College of Further Education, Andrew went to Hull University. But rather than completing a degree in social administration he investigated the trawler sinkings that afflicted the city in 1968, with 58 people from three boats dying in three weeks.

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National papers paid him for his findings, he worked for the Sunday Times’ Insight team, and he joined the staff of the Burnley Evening Star.

From there he went to the Daily Express, and in the early 1970s to the BBC radio consumer show Checkpoint. In 1982 he became a reporter for the Watchdog team on the weekday TV current affairs program Nationwide.

Two years later he joined the Brass Tacks series, but his career at the BBC came to an end in 1986 when he characteristically resigned after a report on corruption in the Metropolitan police was shelved without being broadcast. He took himself and the story to Granada’s World in Action, where later he was joined by Simson, who had been his producer at the BBC. Together with Paul Lashmar and Simson, he wrote Scotland Yard’s Cocaine Connection (1989).

It was his World in Action colleague Paul Greengrass who suggested Andrew have a look at corruption in international sporting associations. As Andrew later observed: “Paul went to Hollywood and I dug into the International Olympic Committee.”

His FIFA campaign also yielded a book, FOUL! The Secret World of FIFA: Bribes, Vote-Rigging and Ticket Scandals (2006), documenting corruption at the organization running the world’s favorite sport. Its publication coincided with the first of five films that Andrew made with me for Panorama. These featured his often humorous attempts to talk to FIFA’s leaders about corruption as he doorstepped them outside plush hotels, in the street, or arriving at airports.

Trinidad’s Fifa executive committee member Jack Warner responded to polite questions about his dubious ticket deal as he arrived at Zurich airport by telling a delighted Andrew that he’d “spit on” him. In another encounter in Trinidad, Warner responded with “Go fuck yourself.” This made for revealing TV, and Warner was one of those indicted on the eve of Fifa’s congress in Zurich in 2015. Andrew saw the Swiss authorities’ ensuing investigation into Blatter as “a day of righteous justice”.

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A few weeks later Andrew suffered a severe stoke while filming in New York. Incredibly, after he was flown back to the UK, a combination of singing therapy and determination enabled him to record the commentary for the completed programme. It ended with Andrew gazing at a large picture of Blatter, the man who had been the focus of so much of his work. Turning towards the camera he addressed the audience with a sparkle in his eyes: “I told you he was a crook.”

He is survived by Clare and two of their children, Henry and Rosie. Two daughters, twins, were born and died in 1998. Andrew is also survived by his daughter, Sophie, from his marriage to Janeen Weir, who died in 1974, and by his stepchildren, Belinda and Tim.

Edward Arthur Andrew Jennings, journalist and film-maker, born 3 September 1943; died 8 January 2022

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