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Hear No Evil

Hear No Evil
November 23
00:00 2014

Autocratic Russia and sweltering Qatar won the rights to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups fair and square, after a generally clean and honest bidding process. There might have been dodgy dealing, perhaps even criminal behaviour, on the part of a few of those involved—but not enough to justify rerunning the bids.

That, at least, is according to FIFA, world football’s governing body. On November 13th it described the results of an internal investigation into the bidding process as having mostly cleared itself and the host countries of wrongdoing. Nevertheless, on November 18th it said that it was handing the report from that probe over to Swiss authorities because it may have uncovered criminal activity (as yet unspecified).

The investigation into the bidding process had been led by Michael Garcia, an American lawyer, who submitted over 400 pages of findings to FIFA’s ethics committee in September. His report was then reviewed by Hans-Joachim Eckert, a German judge who heads the committee’s adjudicatory chamber (pictured right, with Mr Garcia). It was not published, despite pleas from some FIFA officials and Mr Garcia himself. Instead Mr Eckert released his own summary, which Mr Garcia has described as “incomplete and erroneous”. Two whistle-blowers have since said that Mr Eckert tarnished and misrepresented them. Mr Garcia has appealed against Mr Eckert’s interpretation of his report—to another FIFA committee.

Ever since Russia and Qatar won the hosting rights in 2010, there have been allegations of funny business. Several FIFA officials involved have since stepped down under a cloud. In June the Sunday Times, a British newspaper, published e-mails detailing lavish campaigning by Mohamed bin Hammam, a disgraced former FIFA bigwig from Qatar, ahead of the vote for his country. Lord Triesman, who led England’s bid for the 2018 tournament, has said FIFA officials asked him for bribes.

So it may seem odd that England was the country most harshly criticised by Mr Eckert. Its bid committee had accommodated unethical requests from corrupt FIFA officials, he said. Qatar, too, had committed some violations, but according to Mr Eckert its actions “were, all in all, not suited to compromise the integrity” of the process. Russia was let off the hook, even though investigators had limited access to its documents because the computers its officials used had been destroyed.

Dismayed by the findings and the lack of transparency, some football officials are daring to peek above the parapet. Mr Eckert’s summary was “a joke”, says Greg Dyke, the chairman of England’s Football Association. His predecessor, David Bernstein, has called for UEFA, European football’s governing body, to boycott the World Cup in protest. Reinhard Rauball, the head of Germany’s soccer federation, has suggested that UEFA might leave FIFA if Mr Garcia’s full findings are not published.

But a European rebellion seems unlikely. Michel Platini, the head of UEFA, who has himself had to deny allegations of corruption, voted for Qatar. Europe’s football associations benefit from hosting World Cup qualifiers and the sponsorship deals that come with playing on the tournament’s big stage. Poorer nations are even less likely to challenge FIFA, as they benefit from its handouts. The money sloshing around feeds a perception that at least some of it is used to buy favours or votes.

Despite not having read Mr Garcia’s report, Sepp Blatter, the 78-year-old head of FIFA, insists his organisation is clean: “If we had anything to hide, we would hardly be taking this matter to the [Swiss authorities].” But the Swiss benefit from FIFA’s presence in Zurich. A greater threat may come from the Americans. The FBI is investigating allegations of corruption against FIFA, and Mr Garcia can still recommend cases against individual officials. After Mr Eckert’s summary, FIFA said that “a degree of closure has been reached”. That depends on the sponsors. If they start to abandon FIFA and its World Cup, it will prove wishful thinking.

 

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"I support it 200 percent, I am with FRU, the country and the people of Fiji. We want to bid to get one of the HSBC stops in Fiji."
Waisale Serevi
Sevens Legend

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