By James M. Dorsey
A British parliamentary committee has called for an independent inquiry into the awarding by world soccer body FIFA of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar. The call dashes Qatari hopes that it had put to bed allegations of bribery with the admission earlier this year by a whistleblower that she had fabricated allegations that Qatar had bribed FIFA executive committee members.
The parliament’s culture, media and sport (CMS) committee, which this spring held its own hearings on the awarding of the tournaments said it was encouraged by FIFA plans to reform the soccer body in the wake of the worst corruption scandal in its 107-year history but that this did not eliminate the need for a full-fledged inquiry.
"The committee notes that FIFA has received an apparent retraction of the original allegations related to Qatar's 2022 World Cup bid. While it welcomes the withdrawal of the allegations made by the 'whistleblower', the committee is still concerned that no apparent effort was made by FIFA to investigate these allegations when they were put to it, and that other allegations - specifically those made by ex-England 2018 chairman Lord Triesman in evidence to the committee – remain,” the committee said in a statement.
The committee statement comes on the heels of remarks by newly appointed FIFA executive committee member Theo Zwanziger of the awarding of the World Cup to Qatar. Mr. Zwanziger said the governments had pressured their nationals in the committee to vote in favour of Qatar for political reasons. A German sports journalist reported this year that French President Nicolas Sarkozy had persuaded UEFA chief Michel Platini to support Qatar.
“In my opinion the vote for Qatar was decided by some members of the executive committee who are in a very close relationship with their governments, who pushed the political case for Qatar. I think the choice of Qatar from a sporting perspective is still questionable because, due to the summer climate and the size of the country, a World Cup should not be held there,” Mr. Zwanziger said.
Former English Football Association chairman and head of England’s 2018 bid committee Lord Triesman told the committee’s inquiry last May that FIFA executive members Jack Warner, Nicolas Leoz, Ricardo Texeiria and Worawi Makudi had solicited bribes in exchange for pledging support for the English effort to win the right to host the World Cup.
The four men have denied the allegation.
Mr. Warner, who was also suspected of having aided disgraced former FIFA vice president Mohammed Bin Hammam in the bribing of Caribbean soccer officials to secure their support for his failed bid to replace Sepp Blatter as FIFA president, resigned this summer to avoid investigation.
Mr. Bin Hammam, a Qatari national who played a key role in the Gulf state’s successful World Cup bid, is appealing a decision in July by FIFA’s ethics committee to ban him for life from involvement in soccer. The committee has since penalized several officials of the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) for accepting bribes from Mr. Bin Hammam. Damien Collins, a member of the British parliamentary committee has called for a separate independent investigation into Mr. Bin Hammam’s activities as FIFA vice president.
"Our concern is that the governance failings revealed by this (Bin Hammam) incident are symptomatic of a wider governance failure within FIFA, and we stand by our recommendation that FIFA commission a full, independent investigation of the bidding processes for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, and for the outcome to be made public," the British committee statement said.
Mr. Makudi is suspected and could be investigated by FIFA on separate charges of investing FIFA soccer development funds into real estate that belonged to him rather than the Thai football association.
Brazilian authorities have requested Swiss court documents that allegedly link Mr. Texeira to money laundering and kickbacks involving FIFA as well as International Olympic Committee (IOC) officials, including Mr. Leoz as well as African Football Confederation chief Issa Hayatou. The scandal is to be discussed next month at separate IOC and FIFA executive committee meetings who will be presented by a report into the scandal first disclosed by the BBC that was drafted by the IOC’s ethics committee.
Mr. Blatter, in response to the multiple corruption scandals, last month outlined plans for reforming FIFA, including four task forces that will work on reforms of the soccer body’s statutes, ethics committee, transparency and football rules. Mr. Blatter’s reversal of refusal to publish documents related to the scandal and his agreement to reopen the case are widely seen as a litmus test of the sincerity of his reform proposals.
"Fifa's new proposals for addressing systemic reform are encouraging, but will count for nothing if Fifa does not see them through in a timely and transparent manner. We urge Fifa to do this, and to show its commitment to good governance by commissioning an independent investigation of allegations of past misconduct,” said John Whittingdale, the chairman of the British parliamentary committee.
Qatar has repeatedly denied allegations of bribery in its 2022 bid campaign that initially were fuelled by allegations by a disgruntled employee that the Gulf state had sought to bribe FIFA Executive Committee members. The employee later admitted that she had fabricated the charges. Qatar however failed to capitalize on the retraction by being fully transparent about its campaign in an effort to erase lingering doubts.
Qatar, which has sought to distance itself from Mr. Bin Hammam since his downfall, has so far refused to reveal details of the budget for its bid and has not publicly addressed in any serious fashion investment pledges it may have made in the home countries of FIFA executive committee members to influence their vote. Such investments are legal according to FIFA rules but raise ethical questions.
Qatar, the first Middle Eastern country to win the right to host the world's biggest sporting event, defeated competing bids for the 2022 World Cup by Japan, Australia, Korea and the United States.
James M. Dorsey is a Senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer