Bidding countries for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups knew full well about collusion between Spain/Portugal and Qatar but had no proof that they were breaking Fifa rules, it emerged last night.
So worried was the Fifa president Sepp Blatter about the two nations emerging victorious that he voted for the United States for 2022 to avoid a Spain-Qatar double that would have hugely compromised his position and led to suspicion.
Rumours of money changing hands also surfaced last night when Argentina's Fifa vice-president Julio Grondona was at the centre of potentially explosive bribery allegations reported by the Wall Street Journal.
"According to a former employee of the Qatar bid team, at least one adviser recommended that the Qatar Football Association make a payment of $78.4 million to help the Argentina Football Association dig [itself] out of a financial crisis that threatened the country's domestic league," the paper said. "This person said the payment was meant to help Qatar's relationship with AFA President Julio Grondona, who is a member of Fifa's executive committee."
Although Fifa's ethics committee last month exonerated both Spain/ Portugal and Qatar of any wrongdoing, England's bid chief, Andy Anson, said a deal involving up to seven votes was common knowledge among bidding nations in Zurich.
Qatar thrashed the USA in the final round of voting despite being the only candidate given a high operational risk by Fifa's inspectors. "The USA knew that a deal with Spain was done," said Anson. "They knew Qatar startedwith seven votes and they knew the influence of the Qataris also extendedinto parts of Africa. What surprised me is the number of Europeans who must have voted for Qatar."
In their evaluation report, Fifa delivered what many thought would be a hammer blow to the tiny Middle East country by flagging up the stifling heat as a "potential health risk to players, officials, fans and the Fifa family". Yet still Qatar, with a population of just 1.6 million and half the size of Wales, won by a landslide.
Anson stressed there was no evidence to suggest either party did anything wrong by agreeing a trade-off. "That was the folly of the dual bidding process," he said. "Spain were screwed by what happened because by doing the deal they upset a lot of people by siding with Qatar.
"Deal-making is the nature of the game but there are limits. You have to play straight. If there is corruption, that is illegal, unethical and immoral. If there is just a handshake, any bidder would have done the same. But there are too many grey areas and there has to be a line drawn."
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