FIFA, World Cup bidding and corruption

Sepp, João, and a levitating ball.

Sepp, João, and a levitating ball.

Here’s the summary: Australia and England bad, Rest Of The World good. And no need to re-open the bidding for the 2018 or 2022 FIFA World Cups™.

From the moment that Qatar was announced as the host for the 2022 FIFA World Cup™, accusations of wrong-doing and corruption began to fly about – payments to shady figures, misdirected investments in stadium upgrades, slush funds, and extravagant gifts.

The statement released today by FIFA’s Ethics Committee acknowledges that the bidding process was tainted by vote buying and collusion but it seems that FIFA will do very little about it. Certainly there will be no re-run of the bidding process.

An unlikely host

Qatar seems like an unlikely place to host a major outdoor sporting tournament during the hottest months of the year. There was talk of air-conditioned stadiums, night matches, extra breaks for the heat (and television commercials!) and gigantic Mr Burns-style umbrellas to block out the sun.

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Perhaps it was Qatar’s extreme unlikeliness as a FIFA World Cup™ host nation that fuelled the allegations of corrupt dealings. If a country like Luxembourg had won, would the clamour have been the same?

Russia, the 2018 bid winner, has been spared the same glare that was focused on Qatar. One interesting point about the 2018 voting process is that just before the vote on the 2018 World Cup™ host, Sepp Blatter reminded delegates of the negative stories published in the English press about FIFA. England’s 2018 bid received two votes.

After allegations against Qatari football official Mohamed Bin Hammam were published in the Sunday Times in June this year, there’s no chance England will ever host the World Cup again.

FIFA’s internal investigations

FIFA charged its independent Ethics Committee with the duty of inquiring into the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cups™. The investigative team visited 10 countries – the USA, Italy, Holland, Spain, Japan, Australia, Malaysia, Switzerland, Oman and the UK – staying in backpacker-style accommodation and caravan parks.

Today FIFA released a statement regarding this internal investigation and some of the main findings were unusual.

Australia’s bid was first in the firing line. The report threw mud at the Australian whistleblower. The smearing was extraordinary, and completely inappropriate.

The reports notes that two consultants engaged by the Australia 2022 bid “violated the bidding and ethics rules”.

There’s mention that Australian government development funds were misused to gain votes.

The good news is that Australia’s misdemeanours (what would you expect from a nation descended from convicts anyway) did not compromise the 2018/2022 FIFA World Cup™ bidding process.

Now, the England 2018 bid.

According to FIFA’s statement, Jack Warner showered the England 2018 bid team with “inappropriate requests” – and those English fools accommodated his wishes. England’s willingness to accede to Warner’s demands damaged “the image of FIFA and the bidding process”.

Warner is identified as being an influential person within FIFA and CONCACAF. So, there’ll be a re-run of the vote, right? Wrong.

“[The] potentially problematic facts and circumstances … regarding the England 2018 bid were, all in all, not suited to compromise the integrity of the FIFA World Cup™ 2018/2022 bidding process as a whole.”

England’s FA has responded: “We do not accept any criticism regarding the integrity of England’s bid or any of the individuals involved.”

The other countries? Well, the Japanese distributed gifts of ranging in value from US$700-2000. That’s not even a drop in a slush fund. The Belgium/Holland 2018 bid was hunky-dory. Korea wanted to raise US$777m for a global football development fund as part of its bid for 2022. The USA gave “symbolic” gifts, a mistake they won’t make again.

The Russia 2018 bid was scrutinised – to a point. FIFA found no evidence of misconduct connected to the Russian bid, but the Russia 2018 Bid Committee “made only a limited amount of documents available for review.”

But wait, there’s more:

“The computers used at the time by the Russia Bid Committee had been leased and then returned to their owner after the Bidding Process. The owner has confirmed that the computers were destroyed in the meantime.”

Good grief.

It’s not much of a report, really. It says that there was evidence of wrongdoing but not enough for anyone to worry about.

Are you serious, FIFA? You’ve found evidence of vote buying and collusion, but you’re not going to do anything about it?

How depressing.

The debate over the integrity of the bidding process is a bit like the debate over drugs in sport. Should it just be opened up, so that competing countries can splash the cash however they see fit? Collusion, vote buying, slush funds, anything goes! Any and all means used to influence delegates’ voting preferences would be fair.

In that sense, bidding for a FIFA World Cup™ is not that far removed from a garden variety political election, where voters are promised the earth in return for their support at the ballot box. The only difference is that voters usually end up paying for politicians’ promises.

Reform at FIFA

The FIFA statement released today will do little to calm those who are agitating for change at FIFA.

To make matters curiouser, Michael Garcia, who spent 18 months investigating the 2018/2022 bids, has today said that FIFA’s findings on his report are “incomplete and erroneous.”

“Today’s decision by the Chairman of the Adjudicatory Chamber contains numerous materially incomplete and erroneous representations of the facts and conclusions detailed in the Investigatory Chamber’s report,” he said in a statement.

Oh dear.

The prospects of FIFA reforming itself seem slim. Who is going to drive change? The 200+ nations that are members of FIFA?

There is no leadership there.

What about FIFA’s sponsors? FIFA was supposedly warned by some of its leading sponsors that allegations of corruption concerning the award of the 2022 finals to Qatar were damaging football’s reputation. One of those concerned sponsors has extended its sponsorship deal to 2030.

Corporations know that their competitors will rush to fill any vacancy created in FIFA’s sponsorship roster. Emirates has decided to end its sponsorship of FIFA, supposedly because of concerns about governance. It has been reported that Qatar Airways will take Emirates’ place.

We football supporters can’t look to the sponsors to force change upon football administrative bodies. Sponsors will continue to queue up to be associated with football bodies and the major tournaments that they run. The money will keep pouring in. And expensive watches will end up on the wrists of football executives.

How about us fans? Can we change FIFA?

 

Ah. That’d be a “no”, then.

The great shame is that this growing cynicism about football is poisoning our love for the game and the joy we (sometimes) get from watching our nation play.

FIFA needs to change the way that it awards the right to host the World Cup finals. The best solution would be to host the finals in Germany every time.

Think about it:

  • Existing stadiums
  • Strong football culture
  • Excellent public transport
  • Efficient everything
  • Beer

I would love to see Australia host the World Cup. Australia has stadiums and beer, and does ok on one-and-a-half of the other three points, but Germany has it all.