LONDON: Lord Peter Goldsmith, former UK Attorney-General, believes that how it confronts the Qatar issue if FIFA’s “last chance” to prove that it, and the game’s leaders, are serious about cleaning up its act.
Goldsmith was a member of the Independent Governance Committee which was set up in autumn 2011, under the leadership of Basel specialist Mark Pieth, to guide a reform process.
One of the major recommendations was the creation of an independent ethics investigation system. Its chairman, American lawyer Michael Garcia, is currently undertaking an inquiry into the 2018/2022 World Cup voting awards to Russia and Qatar.
The issue was brought back to the fore by weekend allegations in The Sunday Times that Mohamed Bin Hammam, Qatari ex-president of the Asian confederation, had paid $5m in lobbying for support for the Qatar bid among senior African and Caribbean football officials.
Qatar’s organising Supreme Committee has denied all allegations of wrongdoing.
For Goldsmith, the manner in which FIFA deals with the issue is crucial for the credibility of the governing body.
In an interview with the BBC, he said: “We were very clear in our committee’s final [reform] report that it still remains to be tested whether FIFA can change its culture sufficiently to respond to what we recommended.
“We recommended setting up structures which included an independent investigatory arm which is what Michael Garcia is now in charge of and, in particular, that it should look at past allegations of misconduct including specifically the Qatar hosting decision. That is what’s happening now.
“It’s their last chance.
“FIFA, to emerge from the scandals of recent years, has got to demonstrate a convincing and transparent answer to these allegations. Either these allegations are true, in which case they have to follow that through in a meaningful way or they are groundless.
“But we’ve got to have a conclusive answer to this – and this is what first Garcia and then the executive committee and the congress have to deal with.”
Goldsmith also suggested that Swiss law should be tightened up so the relevant authorities could exercise full legal control over all the international sports federations headquartered in the country.
He said: “One of the issues which will have to be looked at in future is whether sporting organisations operating in Switzerland should not be be subject to the full rigour of the law in the way that other companies are.
“FIFA, which started really as a body looking after the rules of the game, as a family organisation almost, has become a multi-billion-dollar business as well as a hugely influential organisation throughout the world and it’s got to operate by their standards
“It’s now got to demonstrate that the culture has changed enough for it to respond to that.”
Pieth himself cast doubt on the practicalities of a re-vote, even if award-bending corruption could be proved.
He said: “If you prove one or two people’s votes have been bought it might not affect anything but as soon as you move towards a majority it becomes material.
“However the real, legal difference is probably even if you have enough evidence to say the voting has been rigged, once we are through with all the procedures – the investigation and judgement and two appeal levels – this might take another few years and we might be so far down the road that it cannot afford to go somewhere else.
“If FIFA said today: ‘Let’s move,’ it would be an option. However they probably don’t have enough [evidence] in their hands and then they could massive legal challenges . . . and we are talking about billions in imdemnities.”