Destroy the computers, disown the man who allegedly handed out the bribes, or simply close the door on the polite American lawyer who would like to ask some questions. Truly, the Hans-Joachim Eckert report has demonstrated how the English Football Association has been taught yet another lesson in Fifa politics.
Our national team might find itself out of its depth when it turns up at the World Cup every four years, but that is nothing to the trouble our administrators get into when they deal in the politics of Fifa and the award of a tournament that earns revenues of US$4bn (£2.55bn).
In a moment of extraordinary naivety, the FA thought in December 2010 that asking Prince William, David Cameron and David Beckham (“Posh, Posh and Becks” as the cover of Private Eye referred to them) to shake a few hands in Zurich would be the final push that landed the 2018 World Cup finals. It could hardly have been more wrong.
Then, after all the indignation, when Michael J Garcia, the US attorney, came to ask questions, the English thought their honesty in complying would be rewarded and the truth would out. Wrong again.
In contrast, when Garcia approached the Russians for evidence they shrugged and said that regrettably their computers had been destroyed. The Qataris said that Mohamed bin Hammam, formerly the vice-president of Fifa and their most senior football official, could not possibly have been working on their behalf when he set up a £3m slush fund.
Key players in the Qatar World Cup bid controversy
Key players in the Qatar World Cup bid controversy
1/5 Mohammed bin Hammam
The Qatari was the Asian Football Confederation president at the time of the 2010 vote. The Sunday Times alleged that documents showed he made payments to officials as part of a campaign to win support for the 2022 World Cup bid. He insisted he had no “official or unofficial” role with the bid. Fifa imposed a second life ban on him in December 2012, after his decision to quit all his football roles. This came after the Fifa ethics committee investigation found him guilty of “repeated violations” of the ethics code on conflicts of interest, while he was AFC president and while a member of the Fifa Exco between 2008-2011.
2/5 Jack Warner
The Trinidad & Tobago politician was forced to resign as a Fifa vice-president in 2011, after he and Bin Hammam were alleged to have paid bribes of £600,000 to Caribbean associations. He is also alleged to have helped Bin Hammam bribe Caribbean officials in return for support in his aim to oust Sepp Blatter.
3/5 Sepp Blatter
The long-standing Fifa president oversaw the bidding process to award Qatar the World Cup. Has since admitted awarding Qatar the cup was “a mistake”. He set up an executive committee task force to look into the World Cup in Qatar being moved to the winter because of the extreme summer temperature.
4/5 Lord Triesman
Former FA chairman. Alleged that, in exchange for voting for England to host the World Cup, Warner asked for money to build an education centre in Trinidad and to buy World Cup television rights for Haiti, and that Paraguay’s Nicolas Leoz asked for an honorary knighthood in exchange for their votes.
5/5 Michael Garcia
Former New York district attorney Michael Garcia was named Fifa’s chief independent ethics investigator. He spent a year investigating the organisation, and delivered a 350-page report on the 2018 and 2022 bidding processes in September. Called for greater transparency and culture change in Fifa.
For all the anger directed at Fifa, the sadness is that the FA participated in the 2018 bid at all. It should have got out at the first opportunity. Yet it took the calls from Jack Warner and danced to the tune of one of the biggest weasels on the Fifa executive committee (ExCo). All in the naive belief that a free Burberry handbag and a sponsored dinner might make the difference. The FA had only one option when it realised that Warner’s attitude represented the corruption of the whole Fifa bidding process. It had to get out of the race. After all, no bid can be a little bit corrupt. It either is or it isn’t. Warner’s reputation was just one of many on the ExCo that the FA already knew about.
Under Parliamentary privilege, Lord Triesman later alleged that the aides to the Paraguayan ExCo member Nicolas Leoz wanted the FA Cup named after him in return for his vote but, at the time, the former FA chairman still had his picture taken shaking Leoz’s hand.
As the FA pressed on with its bid there was public money spent all over the country, including Plymouth and Milton Keynes, to become host cities, an unforgivable waste especially given the squeeze on local authorities’ spending.
All along there was the unsaid suggestion that the game was to push the boundaries, to accommodate, to bend over backwards. There was acceptance that this time the FA had to box clever and that this was just the way things got done. No one wanted to admit that in reality the FA was out of its depth in a poker game it should never have been playing.
Fifa is broken. It comes under the auspices of no sovereign government. It marshals the immense power of a sport that the world is obsessed with and it does so to its own ends. It is rich beyond belief. It feels hard to imagine a day when that will change, even after Sepp Blatter is gone, when there are so many self-interested parties in so many different parts of the world.
Yet, into this war of petrodollars and reputation-laundering non-democratic states came the FA with all the worldliness of Paddington Bear. Never again. But what a way to learn that lesson.Reuse content