A high-ranking member of the body deciding whether England hosts the 2018 World Cup finals has been banned for three years for taking bribes, as the controversial race to secure the biggest prize in sport took another dramatic twist yesterday.
It is less than two weeks until Fifa, world football's governing body, makes a decision. Yesterday's events in an increasingly tense contest swung from a packed conference room in Zurich to a disused sewage works in Trinidad, but still left none of the bidding nations with an advantage.
Nigeria's Amos Adamu became the first Fifa official to be banned for bribery and fined Sfr10,000 (£6,300). Reynald Temarii, the Tahitian who sits alongside Mr Adamu on the powerful executive committee, was suspended and fined for his part in an expose by The Sunday Times that alleged the men had asked for money in return for votes. Four former committee members were also suspended for a total of 12 years. It was a remarkable turn of events for a body that has previously resisted any calls for reform and brushed off allegations of malpractice.
But the decision by the ethics committee was unsurprisingly accompanied by an attack on The Sunday Times from Claudio Sulser, the committee chairman, who labelled the paper's sting as "sensationalist". It is the continued sniping from Fifa and their allies against the British media, deeply resented within the body's Swiss headquarters, that has caused unease among the England bid. They fear becoming the victims of a backlash from Mr Adamu and Mr Temarii's former colleagues on 2 December, decision day.
As a result, England has stepped up efforts to win over delegates during the crucial closing days. David Cameron, who along with Prince William and David Beckham will offer a high-profile presence in Zurich on 2 December, has arranged to lunch with Jack Warner, another committee member. Mr Warner, a controversial and powerful figure within the game, is president of Concacaf, the confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football; he is a key man for England to win over. He is also a minister in the Trinidad government and took the call from the British Prime Minister while inspecting a disused sewage works in the Caribbean.
The decision to drop two committee members means that Mr Warner now holds one of the 22 votes that will decide whether England can see off Russia and joint bids from Spain-Portugal and Holland-Belgium to host the finals for the second time.
Mr Adamu, a former primary school teacher and volleyball player who has long been a political power in the African game, has said he will appeal but it will not be heard in time to restore his vote before next month. The 57-year-old was caught on camera requesting $800,000 (£499,000) from The Sunday Times reporters posing as American lobbyists to build artificial football pitches in Nigeria in exchange for his vote. Mr Adamu said in a statement: "I am innocent of all the charges levelled against me by the ethics committee and I completely refute the decision they have made."
Mr Temarii, a Liverpool fan and the president of the Oceania federation, also maintained his innocence. He was cleared of corruption but found to have breached rules on loyalty and confidentiality; he was suspended for a year and fined £3,100 after it was alleged he asked for funds towards a training facility in New Zealand. His lawyer, Geraldine Lesieur, told The Associated Press that he would sue The Sunday Times for defamation and described the reporters as "crooks, fabricators".
Mr Suler said: "The damage caused to Fifa's image is great. When one talks of Fifa there is generally a negative attitude – talk of corruption and so on – but it's no joke because Fifa is a big organisation and certain things can go awry. The difference now is we are trying to work in complete transparency."
In a separate ruling, the ethics committee cleared the Iberian 2018 bid and Qatar 2022 of any collusion over vote swapping.Reuse content