KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY —- FIFA will hope the imminent World Cup finals in Brazil – beset by troubles enough – will both act as a shield and buy time after the latest corruption claims assault by The Sunday Times over the Qatar 2022 award.
This is the newspaper which exposed a cash for votes scandal in the autumn of 2010, prompting the suspensions of half a dozen members and former members of the governing executive committee.
One of the men to survive, unscathed at the time, was Mohamed bin Hammam. The Qatari was president of the Qatar FA, president of the Asian confederation and a member of the FIFA executive committee.
He had also been the financial and logistical power behind Sepp Blatter’s successful campaign to step up from general secretary and seize the FIFA presidential throne in 1998.
This is where the complications begin over ST allegations that Bin Hammam used 10 secret and family accounts to channel around $5m to senior football officials in Africa and the Caribbean.
The ST has interpreted the “hundreds of millions” of documents accessed ‘electronically’ and through whistleblowers within probably both FIFA and the AFC as indicating that Bin Hammam was covertly buying voting influence for Qatar’s World Cup bid.
Over the weekend Qatar’s organising Supreme Committee issued a powerfully-worded denial of any wrongdoing; assorted British politicians demanded a re-vote; and FIFA, either stunned into silence or refusing to be rushed, directed all media inquiries to the (apparently unstaffed) New York office of independent investigator Michael Garcia.
However, while Qatar had been bidding to win the World Cup host vote in December 2010 so construction magnate Bin Hammam had also been rallying support to oust Blatter as FIFA president at Congress in May 2011.
The evidence presented over 11 broadsheet pages by the ST may be considered from either standpoint or, of course, both.
For the newspaper, it is all about Qatar 2022.
Overtly Bin Hammam played no direct role in the Qatar bid. As AFC president he had to behave in an even-handed manner since three other AFC nations – Australia, Japan and South Korea – were also competing against Qatar and the United States.
Behind the scenes, suggests the ST, he was buying strings in all directions, notably Africa. Here Bin Hammam had deep connections, courtesy of heading the commission responsible for the award of Goal development grants.
FIFA’s exco had opened the door wide to political machinations over 2018 and 2022 by deciding to run the bids simultaneously. Russia was awarded 2018 and Qatar 2022 despite technical report warnings about the searing summer temperatures.
Qatar’s success was controversial partly because of the heat (despite air-cool promises), partly because of the vast sums it spent on worldwide promotion and partly because of a perceived vote-swap agreement with Spain/Portugal’s vain 2018 bid.
Proposals to switch the finals from the traditional June/July slot to November/December sparked further controversy and antagonism among European leagues, winter sports (fearing a threat to the Winter Olympics) and Fox TV and Telemundo which signed up to pay $1bn for North American rights to 2018 and 2022.
Then there is the human rights storm over kafala and conditions of migrant construction workers.
Qatar, for all its wealth or maybe partly because of it, has a lot of enemies.
Garcia began considering corruption allegations concerning the 2018/2022 process almost two years ago.
Over these last years Bin Hammam may reflect that Qatar’s World Cup win wrecked his own FIFA power bid. For Qatar to bid was fine, it raised the profile of the region and its football leaders ie himself. But Qatar’s surprise win was progress too far: FIFA Congress would not have awarded Qatar a win double and installed Bin Hammam as president. Hence his cosying up to CONCACAF president Jack Warner in desperate pursuit of votes.
Most of the perceived ‘bad apples’ in the FIFA exco have long since left the scene, either pushed or of their own volition.
These included notorious characters such as Trinidad’s Warner, Brazil’s Ricardo Teixeira and . . . Bin Hammam himself, first over bribery allegations in his vain presidential bid and then for misuse of Asian confederation monies. Not that these enforced exits ended major ongoing concerns over FIFA governance.
Their successors as leaders among FIFA’s 209 national associations will shortly fly to Sao Paulo for their own regional conferences and then Congress on June 10 and 11. Among them will be around two dozen officials identified by the ST as having accepted monies, for a variety of reasons/excuses, from Bin Hammam.
One of those so identified was Burundi’s Lydia Nsekera, a member of the International Olympic Committee, and the first woman ever elected to the FIFA executive committee.
Blatter has said he will tell Congress that he is prepared to stand for a fifth term as president. By that time, in May next year, Garcia will have reported back.
FIFA’s outgoing British vice-president, Jim Boyce, has said he would support a re-vote should this be Garcia’s recommendation; that is highly unlikely.
Firstly, the Arab world would explode in fury. Secondly, 2018 and 2022 were politically interwoven; re-voting 2022 would mean re-voting 2018. This step, four years out, would not go down well with another President, Vladimir Putin.
As the IOC has discovered with Rio 2016 and its dwindling field for Winter 2020, sport’s mega-events have grown almost too big for their own good . . . and the reputational fall-out is proving – and will continue to prove, promises The Sunday Times – increasingly toxic.