KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTS — Evidence continues to emerge over how the late Julio Grondona played a delicate game with the concept of lucrative contract tenders during his years as head of the Argentinian football federation and of FIFA’s finance committee.

Grondona had commanded the world federation’s finances for more than a decade and the entire AFA for 35 years at the time of his death at 82 on July 30 after returning from the World Cup in Brazil.

There match tickets emanating from the AFA delegation and some bearing his name and that of his son Humberto had been found by police investigating a multi-million touting racket. Grondona was not tasked about them.

Grondona was never president of CONMEBOL but was, in effect, the most powerful football figure in South America and demonstrably untouchable in Argentina. He joined the FIFA executive committee in 1988 and was senior vice-president at the time of his death.

The (late) Hand of Power . . . 'Don Julio' Grondona

His personal wealth, said Grondona, derived from his expansion of the family’s hardware business – he also owned petrol stations, a dairy farm and even a funeral parlour – and not from football.

Critics were sceptical but, whatever the allegations, nothing was ever proved against Grondona – unlike FIFA exco colleagues down the years such as Austin ‘Jack’ Warner, Ricardo Teixeira and, most notably, Joao Havelange.

Separate issues

However, the ‘flexibility’ of his business methods have been questioned lately by separate issues touching on both FIFA and the AFA.

One issue concerns the duel between travel giant Kuoni and long-time FIFA partner Byrom for the world federation’s accommodation business at the 2018 World Cup finals in Russia; a second centres on Argentina’s domestic TV football operation.

FIFA’s 2018 World Cup accommodation tender drew responses from several companies in the summer of 2012. These were winnowed to a two-strong shortlist comprising Kuoni and Byrom.

In November 2012 costings talks were held with both companies before the comparative strengths of the bids were evaluated by FIFA’s own inspectors.

Rating points in a draft report were awarded on a scale of one to five, from weakness to strength. Thus Kuoni won on all categories and, decisively, by 51-22 overall with an offer assessed as “more professional, credible, viable and based on a local partnership model.”

Byrom, though having “limited financial assets” and FIFA as its only customer was acknowledged as boasting “strong FIFA World Cup experience” and having enjoyed a “long relationship with FIFA executives and clients.”

Hence, by the time the assessment reached the finance committee, the category assessments in the draft had been refined to such an extent that Grondona could recommend that FIFA should maintain the Byrom parnership which stretched back to the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.

Match companies

Decisions have yet to be taken on ticketing and IT services.

These contracts were operated by Byrom in Brazil through its subsidiaries Match Services (wholly owned) and Match Hospitality (majority owned).

Hence the understandable commercial importance of Byrom continuing to deny, in the most vehement terms, the charges levelled against executive Ray Whelan in Rio de Janeiro over alleged involvement in a ticket-touting racket.

FIFA’s faith in Byrom remains unshaken. As secretary-general Jerome Valcke told this writer in September: “There are no reasons for us not to work with the company which has done a very good job . . . I would have no problem extending the contracts on the basis of the work they have done.”

As for Kuoni, if the company had won the FIFA accommodation business it would doubtless have used the kudos to ramp up its Russian business. Instead, within weeks of FIFA having ratified Byrom so Kuoni announced it had quit the Russian market altogether.

That, as Grondona indicated at the time, justified the decision to stick with Byrom [FIFA statement below**].

Domestic projects

Grondona flew home to Argentina from the World Cup in Brazil in July to progress a raft of domestic projects. One was a proposed all-seater national stadium to incorporate AFA offices and museum near Ezeiza airport; of even greater concern was his controversial 30-club league expansion to squeeze more TV rights money out of the government.

Until lately politicians, fearing an election backlash from fans, had declined to challenge Grondona’s empire. But then President Cristina Kirchner started to ask why, after handing over £600m in eight years, club debts were still rising.

Questions also began to be asked by MPs about the contracting of production outfit Farolito International and AFA marketing partner Santa Monica Argentina (SMA is the local subsidiary of the Spanish Santa Monica group which, in 2007, bought out AFA commercial agent Puntogol with which Grondona had long been associated; Puntogol had been an offshoot of bankrupt ex-FIFA marketing partner ISL).

The allegation was that Grondona and his officials had not complied with a law demanding open tenders for any contracts concerning the use of state funds.

At the end of September, boxes of documents were taken from the AFA offices under orders of prosecutor Eduardo Taiano. Earlier this year he had placed Grondona and cabinet chief Jorge Capitanich under investigation for mishandling funds.

Now, of course, Grondona is no longer available to provide answers . . . to Taiano or anyone else.

FIFA statement

** A FIFA spokeswoman, asked about the Byrom/Kuoni tender process, said:

The document being referred to in the media is one of a series of internal appraisal documents of the FIFA administration and forms part of the overall tender process.

In December 2012 the FIFA Financial Committee reached the unanimous decision to select Byrom plc, with a view to maintaining continuity.

As is standard procedure during the course of a tender process, the parties involved updated their initial proposals over time and at the end the offers from the final two bidding parties were identical in many aspects.

As there was very little to choose between the two final proposals, in the interest of continuity the decision was made to select Byrom plc, who have extensive experience at major sporting events, as the accommodation agency for the 2018 FIFA World Cup™.

More information on this matter can be found in the press release published at the time the announcement was made:

# # # #