KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTS — FIFA’s ethics judge Hans-Joachim Eckert is about to deliver, this morning, his interim summary of the investigation thus far into the bidding scandal surrounding the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
Munich-based Eckert has spent the past three months reading and assessing the evidence collected over the past two years by ethics investigator and/or prosecutor Michael Garcia.
The American attorney and his Swiss deputy, Cornel Borbely, compiled a 430-page report with a further 200,000 pages of supporting documentation.
Demands for the entire report to be published have been resisted by the world federation’s lawyers on the grounds of the confidentiality promised to witnesses and the risks of any premature comment undermining possible disciplinary action (appeals could go to the Court of Arbitration for Sport which operates under the judicial auspices of the Swiss federal court).
Eckert’s summary is expected to range over the nature of the report and instances of concern.
This could range from breaches of the light-touch ethics code in place at the time of the vote to offences of non-cooperation with the inquiry; such latter incidents would contravene the ethics code ramped up under the FIFA governance reform process undertaken since 2011.
The crisis was sparked by FIFA’s decision in 2008 to undertake simultaneous bidding for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups in the hope of generating significant immediate guarantees of long-term revenue, rather like the International Olympic Committee’s TV rights relationship with NBC.
Later FIFA president Sepp Blatter admitted the decision had been a mistake though “it seemed like a good idea at the time.”
Running two bids threw the door wide open to political vote-trading and offered tempting opportunities for less scrupulous members of the executive committee. Nigeria’s Amos Adamu and Oceania president Reynald Temarii were suspended before the vote after being caught offering their votes for sale.
A string of other influence-seeking escapades were undertaken ranging from handbag gifts (to exco members’ wives by England) to massive promotion expenditure (by Qatar).
In the end 2018 was deemed to be between the European bidders (Belgium/Holland, England, Portugal/Spain and Russia) and 2022 between the rest of the world, minus Africa and South America (Australia, Japan, Qatar, South Korea and United States).
On December 2, 2010, in Zurich the FIFA executive committee voted that Russia should be awarded 2018 and Qatar 2022. The latter decision has sparked one of the greatest controversies in even FIFA’s history.
Russia’s preparations have been entirely overshadowed by the multiple issues raised about Qatar from the climate (and hence the timing), to labour conditions and political concerns (over the Gulf state’s links with Egypt’s outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas which controls strife-torn Gaza).
All this has been laced with multiple corruption scandals involving former exco members such as Jack Warner and Chuck Blazer (central and North America, ie CONCACAF), Mohamed bin Hamman (Qatari former president of the Asian confederation) and Ricardo Teixeira (Brazilian former son-in-law of long-time FIFA president Joao Havelange).
In the meantime Qatari influence in elite European football has been buttressed by the purchase of French champions Paris Saint-Germain, sponsorship of Barcelona and the ever-increasing rights reach of TV channel Aljazeera.
Further, it is expected that Qatar Airways will take over the flights sponsorship of the World Cup on the imminent expiry of FIFA’s contract with Emirates.
The recurring demand of critics of FIFA and the entire process has been for a re-vote. The problem with this procedure regresses to the original mistake: the running of two bids simultaneously.
Logically then, any re-vote should also involve a new ballot on whether the 2018 World Cup should be staged in Russia and that, less than four years from the finals, risks landing FIFA in a legal and financial quagmire.
Eckert has insisted, on his rare appearances at conferences this autumn, that any such decision would be political and thus a matter for the FIFA exco, being beyond his remit.
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