KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY
** Michael Garcia confronted a double dilemma on his first day as FIFA’s squeaky-clean, bright-as-a-button brand new chief investigator and prosecutor: firstly, how to build his own credibility in a milieu desperately short of that quality and, secondly, where to start delving amid a choice of so many murky depths.
His initial interviews suggest the obvious targets: the ISL scandal – because that ensnared so many FIFA high flyers both financially and psychologically; it was the one small wrong turning which turned from simple infection into a plague of corruption throughout much of the body politic of the upper echelons of world football.
From the wrong turning of ISL and all those illicit payments – the overwhelming majority forever bound to remain secret within a forest of letter-and-number identities (as one would expect from a Swiss financial entity) – it was a short easy step to playing persuasive political games with television rights and bidding battles.
Hence from the ISL scandal it is a natural progression – as Garcia appears to have identified – to study the World Cup bidding process. This means not only the entire 2018/2022 debacle but the vote which, indirectly, created that miasma . . . the vote which assigned the 2006 World Cup to Germany and not South Africa.
Garcia indicated, in an interview broadcast last weekend on German television, that 2006 is on his radar. If he wants to protect and/or develop his professional credibility then (after ISL) that is the place to start.
Indeed, one of the wonders of media coverage of World Cup bidding is that the British press – so tub-thumpingly self-righteous over 2018 and 2022 and England’s crushing defeat – has ignored the murky waters surrounding 2006 on which it should have focused both earlier and more equably.
Truth to tell, in those days the UK media was on the wrong side of the fence in more ways than one, albeit for complex reasons.
Let’s go back to different times, the immediate aftermath of the 1990 World Cup finals in Italy. Joao Havelange was all-powerful as FIFA president while Sepp Blatter, as general secretary/chief executive, was beginning to flex his own personal muscles in the wider game from his own power base in the ‘old’ FIFA House in Zurich.
This was a self-confident FIFA, expanding at high speed courtesy of the undreamed-of millions being generated from TV and sponsor exclusivity contracts . . . and being generated for FIFA by commercial partner ISL even though its creator and guiding light, Adidas heir Horst Dassler, had died a year earlier (prompting the family and business wars which ultimately wrecked ISL itself).
The 1994 World Cup was already set for the United States which meant that, under the unwritten rules of the time, the finals should return to Europe in 1998.
Two main contenders emerged: France and England. The French held the advantage because English football was only just emerging from the black hole of the hooligan era marked, at its worst depths, by the tragedies of Heysel and Hillsborough (and the administrative carelessness epitomised fatally by the Bradford fire disaster).
=== This is an expanded version of an article also at www.WorldSoccer.com===
At least English sport and law had begun to seek solutions and the England team had offered a welcome positive image in the manner of their progress to (and, curiously, exit from) the 1990 World Cup. The nature of that shootout defeat to West Germany, including Gazza’s tears, generated a sympathetic new perspective for the English game.
That year of 1990 also saw English clubs welcomed back into the European club competitions after a five-year absence following Heysel.
Seeking the following year to capitalise on this turn of fortune, the Football Association launched a bid to host the World Cup in 1998. In all honesty, this was a bid before its time. However (and simplistically), German support in FIFA and UEFA’s corridors of power, sparked the deal by which England conceded 1998 to France in exchange for landing the 1996 European Championship.
Moving on and sticking to the established pattern, the 2002 World Cup went out of Europe (to Japan and South Korea) which meant 2006 reverting to Europe. England, not having hosted the finals since 1966 and having been ‘bought off’ 1998, bid again. So did Germany even though it had played host ‘only’ in 1974.
Fascinatingly, the German bid was supported by many of England’s own national newspapers. The reasons were many and varied. One was an impatience with much of the fumbling and bumbling which had been going on within the Football Association (exemplified by the way the clubs had hijacked the FA’s mischievous encouragement for the new Premier League).
An innocent handshake between FA chairman Sir Bert Millichip and German federation president Egidius Braun was blasted across the papers as evidence of double-dealing by the FA. The German federation, its supporters within UEFA up to and including the then chief executive Gerd Aigner, and the German media took happily disbelieving PR advantage.
No-one looked at the German bid and its context. No-one looked at the connections and networks of some of the men working behind the scenes. No-one examined some convenient TV rights deals constructed far and wide.
Until too late . . . and even then it was not by the British media but by a handful of German investigative magazines. Franz Beckenbauer and Wolfgang Niersbach (respectively bid leader and communications boss) have denied any wrongdoing. But, intriguingly, Theo Zwanziger – who led the DFB from 2006 until earlier this year, has said that an investigation into any allegations would be perfectly proper.
Zwanziger’s comment was prompted by the discovery, from the now-released ISL documentation, that the marketing agency paid a certain ‘E16’ the sum of $250,000 on the day before FIFA’s executive voted on the 2006 host.
Controversially, Oceania president Charles Dempsey flew home before the vote, alleging death threats to his family. Dempsey had been due to vote for South Africa. In his absence, Germany won 12-11. If he had voted the 12-12 tie would have left a casting vote with Blatter – which would have gone to South Africa.
Just think . . . if South Africa had hosted the World Cup in 2006, Blatter would not have needed to introduce rotation to force it through for 2010 which also had the effect of handing 2014 on a plate to Brazil. The World Cup would have been in Europe in 2010 (In Germany? In England?) and might then have gone who knows where in 2014?
Not to mention 2018 and 2022.
Not such a dilemma then, for Garcia. Start at the beginning, with ISL, and then work on up through FIFA chronology.
It will be a long job so hopefully Garcia is a man with plenty of stamina. After all, not only is FIFA’s credibility at stake but so is his own.
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