BBC should not be criticised for trying to tackle power of Fifa

2018 bid team’s appeasement in aftermath of Panorama broadcast shows that the world governing body has grown too strong
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The Independent Football

Tonight 22 men will sit down for dinner together in a private room in the Baur au Lac hotel, a five-star residence on the shores of Lake Zurich. Tomorrow the members of Fifa's executive committee will be ferried the short distance to their headquarters where, sometime mid-afternoon, they will decide which countries are granted the right to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cup finals, the most watched, most lucrative event in sport. By the time they vote, in secret of course, they will have spent two days being feted by a sparkling cast of presidents, prime ministers, princes, emirs, footballers and film stars. It is business as usual.

In the wake of Monday night's Panorama, which did reveal new allegations of corruption, Fifa's reaction is to do nothing. Three of their number stand accused of serious malpractice; accepting bribes of around $100m and nothing will come of it. Nothing that is apart from further damage to England's bid and so the subsequent sound and fury has been aimed in the direction of the BBC, accused variously of being unpatriotic, an embarrassment, committing betrayal and sabotage and generally letting the country down. The messenger has been shot.

Panorama filmed the room where the vote will take place. It has a futuristic look, with its low bank of lights and sleek furnishings. Given yesterday's response from football's governing body to the contents of the rest of the programme, they envisage Fifa's future sailing on much as it does now.

The programme may very well have hurt England's bid, perhaps even fatally, although the race remains impossible to call with any degree of certainty. If they make it through to the second round or even the final two and the accused need to switch from their original preference, it is clearly conceivable they will not turn to England as a result of the allegations made against them. England need every vote they can muster against the more heavily fancied Spain/Portugal and Russian bids, but at what cost?

The reaction to Panorama has been one of footballing appeasement. The major charges were that there was nothing new on the programme and its timing was unnecessarily destructive. The issues raised by Andrew Jennings, the programme's reporter and a long-time enemy of Fifa, did surround events that took place in, as one critic dismissively put it, the last century. But that does not make them any less scandalous or worthy of attention right now.

Issa Hayatou and Ricardo Teixeira are accused of accepting money from ISL, the now defunct sports marketing company. That ISL paid bribes to members of Fifa has been in the public arena for some time, but Hayatou has never been linked with this case before. The amount paid to a company in Liechtenstein with connections to Ricardo Teixeira, a key player in the next World Cup finals in Brazil, was also a fresh allegation and $9.5m is not a trifling sum. The claims against Nicolas Leoz, the head of the South American federation, added to ones previously disclosed in a Swiss court. But again the amounts are significant; a further three alleged payments of $200,000 on top of the two of $130,000 already disclosed.

Yesterday Hayatou refuted the programme's claims, saying that the money was not for him but the African federation. The BBC stands firmly by Panorama, and it has defended the timing, too. If, as many have suggested, they had waited and broadcast after the vote, what impact would it have had? If England had won, it would have got swept away in the euphoria. If England had lost, the whole ill-fated affair would have been swept out of mind. Fifa control the most popular sport in the world. Nobody controls Fifa.

Sepp Blatter's organisation – and it is unquestionably in Blatter's grip – make vast sums from its main event, the World Cup. Germany 2006 earned this not-for-profit organisation a profit of €1.4bn. Fifa insist on the host nation guaranteeing tax exemption. Back home in Switzerland, in their 2009 accounts they declared staff costs of $63.1m for 361 employees, that is an average of $174,792 per person

Instead of lambasting the BBC, it is Fifa who should be facing British, and global, opprobrium. There were originally 24 members of the executive committee. Two were punished for the Sunday Times' cash-for-votes allegations and the reaction of a number of their colleagues, according to Blatter himself, was anger at the fate of Amos Adamu and Reynald Temarii. Hayatou was said to have been particularly exercised over the banning of Adamu, an African federation colleague. There is no chance though of the number being reduced to 19.

Yesterday the International Olympic Committee announced they would investigate the claims made against Hayatou, who is also a member of that body. "It's a closed book," was Fifa's take, insisting that the two court cases carried out in Switzerland into the collapse of ISL had adequately dealt with the entire affair. Fifa agreed to pay £3.5m to settle the second case anonymously. When the Salt Lake City scandal rocked the Olympic movement in the 1990s it led to real reform, including age- and term-limits for IOC members. Fifa members can go on and on – the average age of the ExCo members is 64. The IOC also elected 15 former Olympic athletes to their membership; the only player power on the ExCo board comes from the likes of Michel Platini, someone whose career has long gone. When London won the 2012 Games the margin was 54 votes to 50 – 13 are needed to win the World Cup finals, and the final tally will not be made public.

Fifa have no plans to change. Yesterday Prime Minister David Cameron spent half an hour in a private meeting with Jack Warner, the man who is vital to English hopes. He too was accused by Panorama, of attempting to profit from black market tickets. That was not a new allegation – the story was first broken by a Norwegian newspaper – and it is not the first against Warner either. Warner is a vice-president of Fifa and wields three votes, and he probably controls the fate of England's bid too. He released a statement yesterday: "The British Prime Minister understands the importance and power of football."

It is the power of Fifa that Cameron understands, a power that causes governments to bend their way and a power that allows them to rule the game absolutely. And what does absolute power do?

The race for 2018: How the rival bids compare


Odds 8/11 (favourites)

Bid budget £15m

Stadiums Have submitted 16 stadiums, 13 of which will be built from scratch and three of which will be developed.

Stadium budget £2.45bn

Total tickets 3.1million (based on all grounds selling out)

Slogan Ready to inspire

Bid leader Vitaly Mutko (Russian sports minister)

Team in Zurich Vladimir Putin (tbc), Alexei Smertin, Andrei Arshavin, Roman Abramovich, Yelena Isinbayeva

Transport The huge distances between prospective host cities put pressure on air transport and Fifa has already expressed concern over the readiness of the country's railway system.

The bid Billing themselves as a "new frontier", keen to play on the fact that the country will represent a new territory for Fifa, and the World Cup will leave a legacy for the future of Russia's domestic game – Sepp Blatter is known to be keen on the legacy aspect. Stadiums will be largely built with government money. A verbal spat with England was not well received by Fifa.

Spain and Portugal

Odds 5/2

Bid budget £5m

Stadiums A total of 21 stadiums have been submitted, including five new and nine to be developed.

Stadium budget £1.28bn

Total tickets 3.7million

Slogan We play as a team, united by enthusiasm

Bid leaders Angel Maria Villar (Spanish FA president) and Gilberto Madail (Portuguese football federation president).

Team in Zurich Luis Figo, Cristiano Ronaldo, Iker Casillas, Eusebio

Transport A high-speed railway network will be completed in 2012 connecting major cities, improving an extensive road system that requires "major upgrades". Countries' poor financial situations could delay improvements.

The bid Very much of the political variety, highlighting Spain's winning of the World Cup. A large number of the stadiums are already in place and the bid has gained the support of Conmebol in South America. May suffer from Fifa's reluctance to stage tournament across two countries again. Eager to present bid as a "driving force that can overcome barriers of exclusion".


Odds 3/1

Bid budget £15m

Stadiums Submitted a list of 17 stadiums, including seven complete grounds, six of which will be developed and four new stadiums.

Stadium budget £1.63bn

Total tickets 3.5million

Slogan England United, the world invited

Bid leader Geoff Thompson

Team in Zurich Prince William, David Beckham, David Cameron, Boris Johnson, Fabio Capello, David Dein, Alan Shearer

Transport Boasts multiple international airports, an extensive railway network, a link to mainland Europe with Eurostar and good motorway connections.

The bid In a position to hold the World Cup tomorrow. Have been labelled the "motherland" of football by Fifa president Blatter and, in the Premier League, England boasts the most popular league in the world. Impressed in Fifa inspection but bid may have been irreparably damaged by recent newspaper and television exposes and a public war of words with the Russian bid.

Netherlands and Belgium

Odds 40/1

Bid budget £10m

Stadiums Thirteen grounds have been submitted, consisting of six new and seven to be developed.

Stadium budget £1.56bn

Total tickets 3.3million

Slogan Together for great goals

Bid leader Michael van Praag (Dutch FA president)

Team in Zurich Johan Cruyff, Ruud Gullit, Guus Hiddink, Gilles de Bilde

Transport The small land area of the countries and proximity of cities allow easy travel via public transport.

The bid Portray themselves as the eco-friendly bid, offering a small and compact tournament with short journeys for supporters. Seen as the rank outsiders of the quartet and, as with the Iberian bid, their chances may be hindered by Fifa's dislike of co-hosts.