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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Blatter has reason not to want a FIFA investigation of Qatar


FIFA President Sepp Blatter gestures during a press conference. (File photo)

FIFA President Sepp Blatter gestures during a press conference. (File photo)
World soccer body FIFA president Sepp Blatter has every interest in avoiding that the organization’s inquiry into widespread corruption is expanded to include allegations that Qatar bribed executive committee members to win the right to host the 2022 World Cup.

That could prove difficult if former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger approaches the FIFA corruption scandal the way he approached the 1999 restructuring of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) when it was enveloped by allegations of corruption and improper behavior related to the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.

Mr. Kissinger, who was an ambassador for the United States’ failed bid against Qatar for the 2022 World Cup, has been asked to advise the FIFA ethics committee responsible for the enquiry alongside Dutch soccer legend Johan Cruijff and opera singer Placido Domingo.
“Remember only two things: That Kissinger’s secretive consultancy firm tightly controlled the so-called Olympic reform process in 1999 after the catastrophic sex-and-cash-for-votes scandal in Salt Lake City. And remember (are you listening Sepp?) that Kissinger worked on the failed American bid to stage the 2022 World Cup. He knows his country was shafted. Sepp, it’s personal,” writes Andrew Jennings, a veteran, crusading reporter on his Website, Transparencyinsport.org.

Beyond the embarrassment of the enquiry finding that there is sufficient evidence to investigate the Qatari bid, Mr. Blatter may have reason to fear that he could be implicated in the case.

An email made public by FIFA executive committee member Jack Warner, who was last month suspended together with Mohamed Bin Hammam, the head of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and a Qatari national closely associated with the Gulf state’s bid on suspicion of corruption, released an email he had received from FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke asserting that Qatar had “bought” its 2022 World Cup hosting rights.

Mr. Valcke subsequently said that he was referring to gas-rich Qatar’s financial muscle rather than to any wrongdoing by the Gulf State.

Mr. Warner backed away from his intention to release further mails implicating Mr. Blatter on what he said was his legal counsel’s advice.

The Sunday Times newspaper reported earlier that FIFA executive committee members Issa Hayatou and Jacques Anouma were paid $1.5m to vote for the Qatari bid.

In an interview with CNN this week, Mr. Blatter said he had no intention of opening an investigation of Qatar’s bid but would not stop the FIFA ethics committee from doing so.

“I don't know why we should open something because somebody has said something toward Qatar. If this committee of solutions or the ethics committee have the impression that they should do something then let them take the decisions,” Mr. Blatter said.

Mr. Blatter, who last week secured his fourth term as FIFA president unopposed after being cleared by the ethics committee of any knowledge of any alleged bribery, said he was unconvinced by the evidence against Qatar.

FIFA would be forced to annul its executive committee vote awarding Qatar hosting rights if it were proven that the Gulf State had employed bribery.

With nine of its 24 executive committee members suspected of corruption or improper behavior, FIFA is facing the worst crisis in its 107-year history. Two of the nine were banned by FIFA last year.

FIFA investigators began interviewing in Miami on Monday the heads of the 25 member associations of the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) who allegedly were offered $40,000 each by Mr. Bin Hammam with the support of Mr, Warner, the head of the North American and Caribbean soccer federation, if they supported his campaign to challenge Mr. Blatter in last week’s presidential election.

Mr. Bin Hammam was suspended by the ethics committee three days before the election. He withdrew his candidacy hours before his suspension. Mr. Bin Hammam said Mr. Blatter had been aware of his willingness to pay the “expenses” of CFU members who had travelled to meet with him in Trinidad last month to discuss his presidential ambitions.

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