Isaac Ohlin

Team players: FIFA 2022 World Cup – Part Two

In Part Two of his FIFA 2022 World Cup feature, Isaac Ohlin looks now to the blatant corruption within and surrounding FIFA, with rife vote swapping and illegal exchanges uglying the game for all.

 

(If you missed Part One, Dropping the ball: FIFA 2022 World Cup read it NOW)

 

Reject Corruption…and other Dangers to our Sport. Football’s huge popularity sometimes makes it vulnerable to negative outside interests.

Help Others to Resist Corrupting Pressures.

Rules 7 and 8, FIFA Code of Conduct for Football

 

 

The World Cup bid voting revolves around the vote of the FIFA Executive Committee. A bid must gain an absolute majority as voted by all eligible members of the Exco. The Exco is made up of a President, Sepp Blatter, eight Vice-Presidents, representing the continental Football Federations, and fifteen other members, totalling 24 votes in all. In the 2018 and 2022 votes, only 22 delegates were eligible to vote.

Allegations of impropriety in the Qatari bid were present even before the announcement of Qatar as the host nation. FIFA began a probe in October of 2010 into an agreement between Spain and Qatar, implicating Spanish delegate Angel Maria Villar Llona, for pledges to swap an alleged seven votes for each in the 2018 and 2022 votes respectively, over half the tally needed to win. This occurred despite vote swapping being outlawed in Exco voting rules. This was later confirmed by Phaedra Almajid, an international media specialist for the Qatari bid, and by Sepp Blatter himself, admitting, “I’ll be honest, there was a bundle of votes between Spain and Qatar.” Subsequent investigations have been conducted into allegations of a vote swap deal between South Korea and England and proposals by Qatar to swap votes with England.

Perhaps the most significant vote swap deal is alleged to have occurred between Russia and Qatar. An investigation by The Sunday Times has revealed that after a meeting between Qatari officials at the Kremlin to discuss “bilateral sporting relations,” Vladmir Putin and the then emir discussed a gas extraction deal in Siberia’s Yamal peninsula.

The corruption in the Qatari bid is alleged to have begun at the very top. Mohammad Bin Hammam was a member of FIFA’s Exco as Vice-President for the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).  In 2012, he was suspended for life from football after detrimental conduct, including illicit cash payments, in his re-election campaign to the AFC in 2009. The Qatar bid team has consistently denied his official or unofficial involvement in the 2022 campaign, backed up in a subsequent probe into the bids by FIFA.

However, The Sunday Times has alleged that he paid $5million from a ten-account slush fund to 30 African delegates in order to gain a groundswell of support for Qatar’s bid, as well as $1.7 million to Asian delegates. A further  $1.6million was paid to disgraced former head of the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF), Jack Warner – $450,000 of which came just before the Exco decision. He is also accused of paying the legal fees of former Tahitian Exco member Reynald Temarri, allowing him to contest corruption allegations. By contesting, Temarri was able to block his deputy, Papua New Guinean David Chung, from voting on the 2022 bid, amid rumours Chung would vote for Australia. FIFA probe whistle-blower Phaedra Almajid has stated that he was “the key player, our key lobbyist,” and he was lauded by other members of the bid team as “the hero,” despite the denials of the Qatari bid team.

Almajid has levelled other allegations against the Qatari bid team. She has claimed that $1.5million was paid to Exco members Issa Hayatou, Jacques Anouma and Amos Adamu, although these allegations have been denied. Adamu was ineligible to vote on the 2022 bid, following an investigation into bribery allegations. Almajid has said that secret meetings were held between Qatari society and members of Exco, including Sepp Blatter and Egyptian delegate Hany Abou Rida, who was subsequently banned for other corruption charges. She has also accused the Argentinian Football Federation of having been offered financial assistance, in order to curry favour with South American delegates, including Argentinian Julio Grondona. Almajid withdrew her testimony in 2011, with the Qatar bid team refraining from legal action for breach of confidentiality in Almajid’s contract, although she has since stood by her original claims.

Brazilian delegate Ricardo Teixeira, banned by FIFA for a separate corruption scandal and a voting member of the 2010 Exco, is accused of having transferred $2 million to the account of his ten-year old daughter. The source of the funds is murky, with speculation that the money may have come from the accounts of former Football Club Barcelona President Sandro Rosell, himself being investigated for mismanagement of funds. Barcelona announced its major jersey sponsor as Qatar Airways, a Qatar government owned enterprise, to the tune of €100million in 2013. The Qatari government has denied any involvement with the funds.

Michel Platini, head of UEFA, Europe’s Football Confederation, has admitted that European delegates faced “direct political pressure” from European governments to vote for Qatar. On November 23, 2010, just before the Exco vote, Platini himself had a meeting with then French President Nicolas Sarkozy, current Emir of Qatar, Tamam bin Haman al-Thani, and a representative of Paris St Germain (PSG) Football Club. Sarkozy is reported by France Football magazine to have urged Platini to vote for the Qatari bid, with the Qataris buying PSG and creating a sports channel in France in return. Platini denies that this influenced his vote in any way. In 2011, Qatar’s state investment fund purchased PSG, while in 2012, Al-Jazeera, Qatari government owned, established beIN Sport in France, coupled with a $150million to cover French football.

Further possible corruption surrounding the FIFA Exco members and the World Cup bids include:

  • Cypriot Exco delegate Marios Lefkaritis selling a packet of land in Cyprus to the Qatari sovereign wealth fund in 2011 for a sum of more than $40million. Lefkaritis denied any wrongdoing in the deal.
  • Discussions between Thai Exco delegate Worawi Makudi and Qatar at the government level, seeking to strike a deal for gas concessions between Thailand and Qatar. Makudi has denied this influenced his vote or that he profited from the deal.
  • Franz Beckanbauer, German football legend and 2010 Exco member, is alleged to have put his vote up for sale through two associates, who demanded millions in consultancy fees in return for the vote.
  • Nicolas Leoz, a Paraguayan Exco representative, asked for a knighthood in return for voting for England’s bid 2018.
  • US Exco representative Chuck Blazer was banned in 2013 for fraud, though not in relation to the World Cup bidding process.
  • In summary, 15 members out of the 22 eligible to vote in the 2018 and 2022 bidding process implicated in fraudulent activity directly surrounding the Qatar bid, with another three delegates ineligible due to corruption or since implicated in other charges. The ensuing outcry forced FIFA into launching a probe through its Ethics Committee to be conducted by former US Attorney General Michael Garcia as its investigative lead, and German judge Hans-Joachim Eckert as head of adjudication.
  • The investigation faced a myriad of issues. Garcia was unable to interview Hammam, and had no enforcement ability to subpoena testimony or force Internet providers to provide data. The Russian bid team claimed that its computers were destroyed after the process was completed, while some FIFA members attempted to shutter the probe in March 2014. Judge Eckert released his 40-page judgement on November 13, 2014, implicating England, Australia, Korea and Japan in ethics violations, while declaring the bids of Qatar and Russia clean. Inadvertently released were the names of whistle-blowers Phaedra Almajid and Bonita Mersiades, a member of Australia’s bid team, despite confidentiality agreements.

Garcia claimed that his report was misrepresented in Judge Eckert’s ruling, and appealed to FIFA against the verdict, with vote swapping not mentioned and the testimony of witnesses ignored. When FIFA rejected his appeal, he resigned, citing a “lack of leadership in FIFA.” FIFA has agreed, following considerable pressure, to release a redacted version of the report in March 2015.

 

FIFA bears a special responsibility to safeguard the integrity and reputation of football worldwide. FIFA is constantly striving to protect the image of football, and especially that of FIFA, from jeopardy or harm as a result of illegal, immoral or unethical methods and practices.

Preamble, FIFA Code of Ethics

 

The level of corruption demonstrated in the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups is pervasive; the conclusions presented in FIFA’s probe, hubristic. FIFA, the world’s largest, and arguably most important sporting body, has operated in a fashion more synonymous with the financial institutions responsible for the 2008 GFC, “too big to fail.” Its dealings involve more than just sport, as heads of state, corporations, the media and a multitude of powerful people and interest groups converge to decide the host of the most popular event of the world’s most popular sport, worth multiple billions of dollars.

In the case of 2022, it has chosen a bid that seems less than worthy for reasons that seem less than sound, and no change in host nation is likely. It truly is an ugly, ugly saga for the beautiful game.

 

Isaac Ohlin

Isaac Ohlin is a journalism graduate who hopes to one day work in conflict resolution and peace building. He currently spends an inordinate amount of time browsing international news.

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