Bernstein in tight spot over Fifa president vote

FA chairman may abstain in June election as those accused by Lord Triesman deny bribery claims

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The Independent Online

The new Football Association chairman David Bernstein will come under pressure today to reveal whether the FA will abstain in protest when it comes to the vote for the Fifa presidency next month, in light of the revelations made by his predecessor Lord Triesman about football's world governing body.

The shock waves from Triesman's claims to the Commons Culture, Media and Sport committee were still being felt around world football yesterday as many of the Fifa figures named by the former FA chairman as having asked for bribes in return for supporting England's bid to host the 2018 World Cup finals moved to deny the allegations.

Bernstein, who has been in the FA chairman's seat since January, will speak today for the first time on the issue, well aware that there is no way that the FA can support the presidency of incumbent Sepp Blatter, who oversaw the English bid's defeat in December. His opponent, the Qatari Mohamed Bin Hammam, has also been drawn into the furore by Triesman, who alleged that Qatar's successful bid to host the 2022 tournament paid bribes for two of the Fifa executive committee's (ExCo) African votes.

Blatter said yesterday that any investigation into Triesman's claims would have to take place before the presidential elections on 1 June – which Blatter will not postpone. There has been considerable discussion at the FA over the last 48 hours over how they proceed in the light of Triesman's allegations.

Although it is bruised by the scale of its humiliation in the 2018 race – England got just two votes, one of which was from an Englishman – the English governing body has no wish to become involved in a long-running feud with Fifa. That was made evident yesterday in the swift climbdown by sports minister Hugh Robertson who had originally raised the possibility that the FA might even break away from Fifa.

However, Bernstein is now under pressure to ensure that the FA is seen to be distancing itself from those at Fifa involved in corruption allegations. The FA is one of 208 member associations who have a vote in next month's elections. With an abstention on the cards, Bernstein is expected to give some indication today as to the FA's intentions.

After a low-key start to his chairman's tenure, Bernstein has been discussing the situation with other FA board members since Triesman make his startling disclosures in the Commons on Tuesday. There is an FA board meeting a week today at which it will ratify the decision.

Yesterday Blatter asked for Triesman and the FA to submit their evidence of corruption immediately. "I'm very sad again to be faced with such allegations," he said. There are serious allegations against the ExCo members Issa Hayatou and Jacques Anouma who are both claimed to have been paid bribes of £1.5m in order to vote for Qatar's successful bid to host the 2022 World Cup finals.

Triesman alleged a further four ExCo members asked England's bid team for money, and in one case a knighthood, in exchange for their vote for England's candidacy to host the 2018 tournament.

Bin Hammam, the president of the Asian football confederation, denied yesterday that his friend, the businessman Amadou Diallo who was named in new evidence submitted to Parliament by The Sunday Times newspaper, was a fixer working on behalf of Qatar to bribe African ExCo members.

Bin Hammam said: "He's a close friend of mine and if you know the role he plays you will laugh at these allegations. He's simply a friend of mine and he has nothing to do with Qatar or anyone."

The Fifa vice-president Jack Warner, another ExCo member, was among the four alleged by Triesman to have asked for a bribe – in his case, cash for an education centre in his native Trinidad that was to be paid into his private back account. Warner said: "First of all, I laugh like hell because it took those guys from December to now [to say] that I have £2.5m, I believe. I never asked anybody for anything.

"What is painful is that the FA spent £19m in a bid, 24 persons in the Fifa [ExCo], one is from England, seven of whom from Europe; if the other 16 persons were bad, how come the only vote they got is the Englishman's vote? How come not even one person from Europe voted for them?"

While Fifa has been steadfastly resistant to change it is notoriously sensitive to criticism in the British media, as was proven by the BBC Panorama documentary in the build-up to December's vote. While most of the leading football countries' media take only a passing interest in Fifa, the British media's habit of probing into the organisation is arguably the most likely force for change.

Although Bernstein has to make a major call on how the FA will handle the presidential elections, it has been noted that Geoff Thompson, Triesman's anonymous predecessor as FA chairman, has already tied his colours to the mast. He was a signatory to a letter from Uefa supporting Blatter's candidacy.

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