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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Outspoken FIFA Executive Committee Member Lashes Out at World Cup Bidding Process


Outspoken FIFA executive committee member Chuck Blazer has lashed out at FIFA’s handling of the process that led last to December Qatar’s winning of its bid to host the 2022 World Cup, while at the same time praising the Gulf state’s succesful bid campaign.

In an interview with World Soccer Magazine’s March edition quoted by World Football Insider, Blazer charged that the recommendations of FIFA’s five-man inspection team “were ignored completely” and said that there was a lack of willingness in the executive committee to discuss deficiencies raised in their reports. Blazer’s remarks were at least in part referring to FIFA’s evaluation of Qatar as a potential venue for the World Cup.

“That part of the Exco meeting was over in a matter of minutes,” Blazer said.

Blazer’s comments came as prominent German sports writer
Thomas Kistner asserted that Qatar succeeded in winning its bid to host 2022 World Cup by bribing FIFA Vice President Julio Gondova, promising to build 22 stadiums in developing countries, and getting French President Nicolas Sarkozi to persuade UEFA president Michel Platini to vote on its behalf.

Thomas Kistner, sports editor of the respected Munich based German newspaper, Sueddeutsche Zeitung, said FIFA had voted in favor of Qatar’s bid despite the fact that "in Autumn 2010, FIFA inspectors delivered what should have been a fatal blow to Qatar's hopes when they reported to FIFA's Executive Committee that they rated Qatar as a high overall operational risk, specifically team facilities were 'high risk' and there was 'medium risk' in eight other categories. There were also warnings that the summer heat – which can rise to 50° Celsius or 122° Fahrenheit – poses a potential health risk to players, officials and spectators."

Blazer quipped at one point during the bidding process that Qatar couldn’t “air condition an entire country” and voiced concerns about vote collusion between the Qatar bid and Spain-Portugal.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter conceded earlier this month for the first time that Qatar and Spain and Portugal colluded to trade votes for their respective 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids. FIFA had earlier claimed that its investigation had found no evidence of such collusion.

Blazer asserted that FIFA had “pooh-poohed” the collusion claims and had adopted an attitude that such matters were an inevitable consequence of the process.

Blazer nonetheless said Qatar had waged “an excellent sales campaign,” adding that “I respect the fact that they won.”

Blazer said he had not been approached with inappropriate offers, but criticized FIFA executive members for being influenced by ambiguous promises of what he termed “legacy”, such as assistance in building new training facilities in their home countries.

“All of a sudden it was presumed that kind of legacy was OK,” Blazer said. “It wasn’t, it shouldn’t have been, but a couple of guys went far beyond what they should have. It became confusing. It was badly done on our part.”

Kistner said he would present evidence of his assertions at a conference in early April in Miami on offshore financial centers and serious financial crime. He made his allegations in an email distributed by the conference organizer aimed at persuading readers to register.

Blazer’s remarks and Kistner’s allegations are likely to fuel mounting allegations regarding Qatar’s bid, many of which raise as many questions about FIFA’s bidding rules and their application as they do about the propriety of the Gulf state’s winning strategy.

Some of Kistner’s assertions were reported earlier in lesser detail by The Wall Street Journal, which said it had reviewed internal documents of the Qatar bid committee.

FIFA has been hit in recent months by multiple charges of corruption that have already forced the suspension of two of its executive committee members.

Qatar, the first Middle Eastern country to be awarded the right to host the world’s biggest sporting event, has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing in pursuing the hosting of the 2022 World Cup.

"Accusations have surfaced that a Qatar bid adviser recommended a $78.4 million payment to Argentina for influencing the voting of powerful long-standing FIFA vice president Julio Grondona, head of FIFA's Finance Commission," the Offshore Alert Conference newsletter quoted Kistner as saying.

Kistner said Qatar had also paid the football federations of Argentina and Brazil, whose presidents are FIFA executive committee members, $1 million each to have their national teams play one another in the Qatari capital Doha two weeks before the December 2 , 2011 FIFA vote on the hosting of the 2022 World Cup.

The match attracted few spectators but was attended by French star Zinedine Zidane and former Argentine striker, who each were paid $1 million to support Qatar’s bid.

Qatar was competing for the tournament against bids from the United States, Australia and South Korea.

"Two weeks before Election Day, Qatar invited the Argentine national team to play a friendly match in Doha against Brazil. Few spectators were there, only football heroes like Zinedine Zidane and former Argentine striker Gabriel Batistuta, each of which reportedly was paid $ 1 million to back Qatar’s bid,” the newsletter quoted Kistner as saying.

Kistner produced at $200 million the highest estimate yet of Qatar’s total budget to win the 2022 bid and quoted “one insider” who asserted that the total cost could be hundreds of millions of dollars more if one included alleged incentives promised to various countries.

Qatar has never published the total budget of its bid, but past estimates have put its budget for marketing and event-related spending at $45 million, a multiple of the $10 million campaign spent by the United States.

Kistner said Qatar has promised as part of its bid to build 22 stadiums in developing nations as well as a soccer academy in Thailand.

"In another twist, France's voting representative Michel Platini voted for Qatar after being told to do so by the country's President, Nicolas Sarkozy, who has been close to Qatar since signing energy deals in January 2008, when he also forecast France-Qatar trade contracts would be worth ‘billions’ in the future,” Kistner said.

If true, Platini and Qatar have since had a parting of the ways with the UEFA chief provoking Qatar’s ire by proposing that 2022 games be moved to winter to evade the Gulf state’s scorching summer heat and suggesting that other Gulf states be allowed to co-host the tournament. Qatar has rejected both suggestions.

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