LONDON: Sir Hugh Robertson, UK Sports Minister at the time of the 2018-2022 World Cup vote, thinks Michael Garcia’s own professional pride may offer the only route to the truth writes KEIR RADNEDGE.
Robertson was addressing questions about the England bid, the entire process and the ‘FIFA car crash’ outcome of the ethics investigation thus far.
Ethics judge Hans-Joachim Eckert delivered a 42-page summary of the reported generated from the two-year, £6m investigation undertaken by American attorney Michael Garcia . . . which was then undermined by Garcia himself.
Most of the nine bids were criticised for one reason or another and not only England, despite the reaction of the UK media.
Robertson went further than anyone associated with the FA or the England bid team in a pragmatic assessment of criticism levelled by Eckert.
But the main target of his approbrium was the world football federation and president Sepp Blatter for taking the wrong decision at virtually every twist and turn of the scandal-wracked bidding process and its aftermath.
Robertson, in an interview with BBC Radio Five’s Sportsweek, said: “I’m not surprised by what’s happened this week. FIFA has had four years to sort this out and at each and every stage when they had the opportunity to clear this up they failed to do so.
“They need a commitment to do so and that can only come from the top – and I don’t see that happening.
“The key people to blame here are FIFA. They ran a process with no clear rules and compounded it by linking 2018 and 2022 which encouraged bid delegations to trade votes. FIFA caused this and it’s their problem to sort it out.”
Roberton presumed that events this week had prompted “huge panic” in FIFA and the first step in achieving any sort of resolution would be to publish Garcia’s report in full – as several exeutive committee members have demanded.
Robertson said: “[Publishing] is absolutely the right thing to do. The only possible way FIFA can start to regain its reputation – it has no reputation at all, the words ‘FIFA’ and ‘corruption’ are inextricably linked – would be to produce that report in full to shine a light into the dark places.”
The former Sports Minister assessed that prospect as “pretty limited unless Michael Garcia decides that the damage to his professional reputation is so great that he redacts the bits where he has made promises [of confidentiality] to people and releases it unilterially.
“That’s our best hope.”
Robertson thought that UEFA could lead the fight for the truth but only a European ‘coalition’ stood any hope of success. The FA could not pick up the fight on its own and particularly not after the criticism Eckert levelled at the conduct of the England bid.
England were criticised in particular for the manner of their pursuit of the voting influence of the then CONCACAF president Jack Warner.
The FA defence has been rooted in self-justification but Robertson – a long-time critic of the governance of the domestic game – thought the criticisms “to a certain extent justified.”
However he added: “They are right at the bottom end of the scale and a pretty minor infraction. Being British we have been quite honest but I suspect quite a lot of other bidding nations have not.”
The Sunday Times, which sparked the cash-for-votes scandal in the autumn of 2010, has returned to the attack on FIFA and the bid process. Today’s edition raised allegations of vote-swapping approaches to the England bid team by the Qatari former Asian president Mohmed bin Hammam.
The whistleblowers mentioned in Eckert’s summary – Australian Bonita Mersiades and former Qatar bid official Phaedra Almajid – were both quoted by the Mail on Sunday as angrily denouncing the dismissal of their evidence to Garcia.