The Football Association is bracing itself this morning for damning criticism of England’s role in the World Cup bidding process.
World football’s governing body Fifa will make a statement at 9am on the investigation by American lawyer Michael Garcia into the controversial process by which the 2018 and the 2022 finals were awarded. It is anticipated the statement will confirm Qatar as the 2022 hosts, despite allegations of corruption and widespread calls for an alternative venue to be found.
More worryingly for the FA, however, is an underlying fear that England will be condemned for the way they attempted to win the 2018 bid.
Garcia’s report into the probity of the bidding processes has so far been suppressed by Fifa, which has claimed it does not have the legal right to publish his findings. However, the head of Fifa’s ethics committee, Hans-Joachim Eckert, confirmed it will now release a statement, at 9am, saying it will be: “... relating to the [ethics committee’s] investigatory chamber’s report on the inquiry into the bidding processes”.
The FA will focus all its attention on the section referring to England’s bid for the 2018 World Cup finals, won by Russia, which attracted just two votes – one of which was from Geoff Thompson, the only Englishman on Fifa’s Executive Committee (ExCo).
The English were eliminated in the first round of the voting in December 2010 in Zurich – despite the presence of Prince William, David Cameron and David Beckham, who lobbied ExCo members personally. Many of the key individuals involved in England’s World Cup bid, including the two chairmen of the period Lord Triesman and David Bernstein, and chief executive, Andy Anson, have long since left the organisation.
As of Wednesday night, the FA was still unclear as to the detail of the Fifa report. In private the FA says it co-operated with all Garcia’s requests for information and it is possible that some evidence could be construed as having broken bidding rules.
For legal reasons related to his status as an American citizen, Garcia did not investigate the United States bid for the 2018 tournament, nor the Russian bid for 2018.
It is not clear what element of the report is likely to be critical of the English bid, although it has been suggested it could relate to a set of £239 Burberry handbags which were given in October 2009 to the then 22 voting ExCo members – at the time the governing body’s only decision-makers on tournament hosts – as a gift for their wives.
Garcia has already requested the FA sends the receipts for the bags, one of which was returned by Jack Warner, the infamous Trinidad & Tobago ExCo member who has since been at the centre of corruption allegations over Qatar’s bidding process. However, the gift of the handbags fell within the financial limits on gifts imposed under Fifa bidding rules.
Garcia has always maintained that his report should be published in full. Should he recommend that Qatar be allowed to continue with its hosting of the 2022 tournament then that would likely be the last major obstacle facing the Gulf state – which has been the subject of serious corruption allegations – in going ahead with the tournament.
There are also indications that the failed Australia bid for the 2022 tournament, which garnered just one vote, is likely to come under criticism from Garcia. Given the corruption allegations made against Qatar in a Sunday Times investigation published in June, there is likely to be further outcry if, as expected, it is felt that Garcia has simply chosen not to act on the latest allegations.
Qatar has also come under huge criticism from human rights groups for the conditions of labourers, many of them immigrant workers, who are building the vast stadiums and infrastructure projects needed to host the 2022 tournament.
Garcia indicated in June that he would not take into account the fresh allegations against the Qatar bid that were published by The Sunday Times shortly before the start of the World Cup in Brazil this summer. At the time of those revelations, Garcia was close to completing his report for Fifa and did not request the millions of documents obtained by the newspaper detailing slush funds allegedly run by the Qatari football official Mohamed Bin Hammam.
By the time of the latest revelations, Bin Hammam had been banned for life from working in football by Fifa, for the second time in his career. The Qatari World Cup committee has always maintained that he was a rogue element who was not part of their organisation and did not work on their behalf, despite being the country’s most senior official in world football at the time.
The allegations centred upon the actions of Bin Hammam, then a vice-president of Fifa, and the £3m payments he reportedly made to senior football officials across the world to pave the way for a Qatari bid. Bin Hammam paid up to $200,000 into allegedly 20 accounts controlled by various national association presidents in Africa.
While only the Fifa ExCo members had the vote on the hosting of the World Cup finals, a system which has since been changed, the purpose of Bin Hammam’s payments was to create an irresistible momentum behind Qatar’s bid which would carry the support of the vital ExCo members.
In addition to the money spent in Africa, Bin Hammam was alleged to have paid at least €305,000 in legal fees to the former Oceania ExCo member Reynald Temarii. He paid more than $1.6m into an account controlled by Warner. Since the vote Warner has resigned from football administration, putting himself beyond Fifa’s jurisdiction.
The current FA chairman, Greg Dyke, has said that his organisation would not bid for another World Cup finals while Sepp Blatter remains president of Fifa. Any allegations of wrongdoing against the English governing body are likely to be met with disbelief at the absence of scrutiny applied to rival bids, including Russia, who will not form part of Garcia’s report.
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