By David de Winter – Sports Editor
The announcement by FIFA’s self-appointed ‘independent’ ethics committee that it was closing its investigation into alleged corruption over the bidding process to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups was not surprising. If I’d set up my own ‘independent ethics committee’ made-up of my cronies to overview corruption in my own company I’d probably come to the same conclusion. “The Investigatory Chamber of the FIFA did not find any violations or breaches of the relevant rules and regulations,” a FIFA statement read. “As such, FIFA looks forward to continuing the preparations for Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022, which are already well underway.” How very convenient. Not content with brushing the issue under the carpet football’s governing body then took a swipe at England’s bid, accusing the FA of “currying favour” with former FIFA vice-president Jack Warner, who quit in 2011 amid bribery allegations.
The report summary, assembled by German judge Hans-Joachim Eckert, seems to have glossed over certain key findings. Of the Qatari bid, it states that there were “certain indications of potentially problematic conduct of certain individuals” but as these ‘problematic’ individuals did not hold official positions within the football hierarchy, they cannot be bound by the FIFA ethics code. It still means potential corruption took place so why not investigate? Russia, who mysteriously only made a limited amount of documents available for examination and rather handily destroyed the computers on which the bid was formed, were also implicated: the BBC reported that “there was an indication of vote-trading occurring but there was insufficient evidence to prove it.” Of course FIFA are declining to publish this ‘insufficient’ evidence.
What is clear is that both Qatar and Russia are a lot better at corruption than England. Remember the MP’s expenses scandal? The amounts of money there were almost comically insignificant. So hot on the heels of that, the FA tried to woo Jack Warner by getting a part-time job for his mate, picking up a dinner bill of £35,000, and providing the Trinidad and Tobago Under-20’s squad with training facilities. As bribes go, it doesn’t sound like a very appealing one. If that’s as good as the FA had up their sleeve, no wonder they lost. Russia on the other hand destroyed all evidence linking them to any corruption and the Qataris got people who couldn’t possibly be linked to the bid to do their dirty work. It’s almost as if they had done this bribing thing before. I almost think England deserved to lose the bid for being so naive.
When all this came out my initial thought was ‘sod this.’ Sod Sep Blatter and his suit-wearing, fat-cat chums lining their own pockets. Sod that smug, corrupt, sexist Swiss buffoon. England doesn’t need FIFA. But then I thought ‘good on you.’ Good on you England for standing up to the world of bribery and corruption. Good on you for not accepting blatant vote-rigging whilst the rest of the world cosies up to Herr Blatter. Good on you for upholding those British values of honesty, virtue, truth and justice.
As FIFA sat chuckling to itself, the man who spent two years producing the report, American lawyer Michael Garcia, refuted Eckert’s summary not four hours later, saying that there were “numerous materially incomplete and erroneous representations of the facts and conclusions.” So effectively FIFA had hand-picked various statements and findings that suited them and corroborated them into a report, expecting that to be the end of the matter. What they hadn’t bargained on was the diligence of the independent leader of the investigation. These are very serious allegations that completely undermine the integrity of FIFA. Garcia has stated his intention to launch an appeal to FIFA’s Appeal Committee which, seeing as it is run by FIFA, probably won’t get very far. However there are reports emerging from the U.S.A that the FBI are interested in investigating the allegations of corruption which could have far more serious consequences.
Although it reflects terribly on the game of football itself, I am glad that this scandal is being played out in public. FIFA thought that by hanging disgraced duo Warner and Mohammed Bin Hammam out to dry, the problem would go away. Not so. After decades of brushing off allegations, it’s high time the workings of FIFA was put under scrutiny and exposed to the wider world. For far too long the bureaucrats of the sporting world have been exploiting their positions for personal gain. UCI Presidents Hein Verbruggen and Pat McQuaid were both involved in controversies surrounding Lance Armstrong and doping during their tenures and Formula 1 impresario Bernie Ecclestone paid £60 million to end a bribery trial earlier this year, even though he still insisted he was innocent. This whole FIFA affair has a whiff of the Lance Armstrong scandal about it; a governing body-led cover-up; an American whistle-blower; a potential federal investigation. Let’s hope it goes the same way as the Armstrong situation and FIFA are exposed for the frauds they really are.