KEIR RADNEDGE in LONDON —- An independent anti-corruption body to police the murky depths of international sports business has been proposed after publication of an insider’s account of FIFA’s 2018-22 exercise in how NOT to organise a World Cup bid process.
The need for a body which could run alongside the Court of Arbitration for Sport – rather after the separation of powers model of a standard legal system – was raised by Damian Collins, the chairman of the UK parliament’s culture, media and sport select committee.
He was speaking in Westminster at the launch of a book by Bonita Mersiades, the former communications head of Football Federation Australia who was sacked midway through its hopeless vanity project bid to land the 2022 World Cup**.
Collins said sport needed an “independent policing body which sits alongside CAS – maybe as a place of recourse if someone is not obtaining satisfactory results from a sport’s own governing body.” Sports governing bodies, and FIFA in particular, had demonstrated repeatedly an inability, including a lack of will, to address the enemy within.
Australia garnered a mere one vote in the scandal-enshrouded ballot among the then executive committee of world federation FIFA in December 2010 which awarded the finals to the tiny Gulf state of Qatar.
The information set down by Mersiades about the process was described as “horrifying” by the Australian sportswear boss and fellow campaigner Jaimie Fuller.
FIFA has altered the bid selection system ahead of the decision in June on the venue for the 2026 finals but Collins and Mersiades were united in scorning an exercise which had not addressed the core problem.
Mersiades said: “FIFA have had some really good staff there but what mattered [in World Cup bidding] were things that were not written down. You have Process v Culture and what wins every time at FIFA is culture. That won’t change unless there is a seismic shift.”
The retreat by current FIFA president Gianni Infantino from even modest reform has been illustrated by his sacking of senior independent judicial officers such as German ethics judge Hans-Joachim Eckert, Swiss investigator Cornel Borbely and Portuguese governance supremo Miguel Maduro.
Mersiades said: “I was appointed as the FFA’s head of corporate and public affairs in 2007 and was almost immediately roped in to the World Cup bid process with some reluctance because from what I had heard I thought it would be murky and downright corrupt.”
Her worst fears were realised and her increasing doubts about the FFA strategy, headed by its chairman the billionaire businessman Frank Lowy, sparked her dismissal 10 months before the vote.
Mersiades complained that a chunk of taxpayers’ money, ostensibly to support the bid, ended up in the private account of notorious then-FIFA vice-president Jack Warner.
She also fell out with the highly-expensive European consultants hired by the FFA.
Among them was Fedor Radmann, a former Adidas executive and long-time associate of old German hero Franz Beckenbauer, himself considered a supporter of the Australian bid. Another was long-time FIFA insider Peter Hargitay who had been briefly contracted earlier by the Football Association in England when it began to prepare its own bid for 2018.
Mersiades was angered later that her identity and that of another whistleblower – former Qatar bid offical Phaedra Almajid – had been betrayed in an interim report of an inquiry into the bid disaster by former FIFA investigator Michael Garcia.
She added: “FIFA is still desperately in need of restructuring and reform. FIFA now doing the minimum to maintain its victim status with the [judicial] authorities.”
Collins was supportive in stressing his concern about a lack of protection for anti-corruption whistleblowers in sport, an issue not restricted only to football but evident in the Russian doping scandal in the Olympic sphere.
He said: “There are no safe places for whistleblowers to go. Often you find they are only taking the steps they do after having tried to go through official channels or to the national global governing body. Then they find no-one is interested in what they have to say because it raises difficult and embarrassing questions about the organisation.”
Collins said that the select committee’s forthcoming report on sports governance would include proposals for a structure to support whistleblowers.
Whatever It Takes: The Inside Story of the FIFA Way by Bonita Mersiades is published by PowderhousePress.