by Roy Hay
Surprise, surprise. The FIFA inquiry into corruption in the bidding process for the World Cups in 2018 and 2022 has now been completed. The two countries whose media have been most vociferous in alleging improprieties in the bidding process, England and Australia, are castigated for engaging in nefarious practices, while of the two successful bidders, Russia, gets a slap on the wrist and Qatar is completely exonerated from any involvement. The full report on what FIFA believes went on is not released for legal reasons, so all we have is a very longwinded statement by the head of the adjudicating body, Hans Joachim Eckert, which considered the report and selected the items to be discussed.
The treatment of Russia is almost laughable. Apparently the Russian football authorities hired the computers on which the work was done, then returned them to the suppliers at the conclusion of the process and they have since been destroyed. So no evidence there. Then Google, which might have had some of the Russian data on its Gmail accounts ‘had not responded request’ (sic) to release it. Why an investigative body with no coercive powers should think it could get to the bottom of the behaviour by a country whose football body is overseen by a former official of the KGB is hardly a puzzle.
American lawyer Michael Garcia, who conducted the two-year inquiry on behalf of FIFA, said the Eckert commentary on his report ‘contains numerous materially incomplete and erroneous representations’. Michael Garcia has been banned from entering Russia. He plans to appeal to FIFA though for precisely what is not clear. Several influential people have argued that his report should now be published in full.
In the case of Qatar all the financial shenanigans engaged in by Mohamed bin Hamman are attributed to his abortive campaign to run against Sepp Blatter in the election for President of FIFA in June 2011 and have nothing to do with the Qatari bid for the World Cup hosting, which is squeaky clean. Bin Hamman refused a request to speak to the Investigatory Committee. But the Committee found that Bin Hamman encouraged and offered to pay for an appeal against his suspension from football activities by the representative of Oceania, Reynald Temarii. Temarii had been instructed to vote for Australia by Oceania, but was not able to vote because of his suspension, or be replaced because he had appealed against the suspension. If that is not influencing the voting process then what is it? As it was that would only have given Australia two votes in the first round, and it needed four to have any chance of taking part in the subsequent rounds of voting.
Australia on the other hand is said to have been involved in dodgy deals with those well-known conmen Fedor Radmann and Peter Hargitay. Australia also tried to buy the support of Jack Warner, an Executive Committee member who was later suspended from football related activities for corruption. Australia was also complicit in deals to improve football facilities in Africa which were tied to the bid process in a way that was deemed inappropriate. Much of the evidence against Australia was already in the public domain and the whistleblowing of Bonita Mersiades, formerly part of the Australian bid team, but later sacked, was sidelined because she went public with her issues. There is no doubt that dealing with Radmann, Hargitay and Warner was a serious error of judgment on the part of Frank Lowy and his team and there may be repercussions, but the report concludes that the ‘potentially problematic facts and circumstances identified by the report regarding the Australia 2022 bid were, all in all, not suited to compromise the integrity of the FIFA World Cup 2018/2022 bidding process as a whole’!
The England bid is also said to have involved corrupt behaviour by Warner and other members of the Executive Committee which the English bid team ‘accommodated, or at least attempted to satisfy’ in two cases. Most of the evidence relating to these matters came up in the House of Commons commissioned inquiry by James Dingemans, though the FIFA Committee claimed to have supplemented Dingemans’ findings. Again the overall conclusion is that despite jeopardising the integrity of the bidding process, the English facts and circumstances were not suited to comprise the process as a whole!
So that’s all right then.