For any fan of English football the decision to award the 2018 World Cup to Russia was bitterly disappointing especially after the incredible success of the London Games proved how great we are at putting on truly spectacular sporting events. But looking at it objectively you could see the validity in the decision; Russia is a powerful state and a real football nation which has never hosted a major footballing event previously. And the Russian Government were determinedly behind the Bid right from the start unlike our bandwagonners. However the simultaneous decision to award the 2022 event to Qatar, a searingly hot desert state with a lousy human rights record and absolutely no football infrastructure nor tradition of playing the game, instantly seemed like the most blind, stupid and downright morally bankrupt decision of all the crazy pronouncements from the universally-derided FIFA organisation and its tin pot leader Sepp ‘the Mad Hatter’ Blatter.
Watching Blatter and his cohorts squirming towards a re-thought solution of converting the World Cup into a winter event to counter the impossibly hot summer conditions in Qatar, is as grotesque as it is laughable. And that’s what FIFA have become, a laughing stock. There is a way for the organisation to find redemption I believe and that is to admit it made a serious mistake and re-run the process with full transparency. The respected sports journalist David Conn agrees it seems and has argued a superb case for a re-run in today’s Guardian, which is repeated below in full. Great words.
Football’s world governing body, Fifa, seems to believe it can maintain credibility in the World Cup vote taken three years ago with only one minor adjustment; holding the sport’s greatest tournament in Qatar in the winter of 2022, not the summer. Sadly Thursday’s meeting of the executive committee to agree that, and ask all of football – and other sports – to accommodate the change, is just another episode of self-delusion which, under the president, Sepp Blatter, Fifa manages to make farcical and monstrous at the same time.
This issue is more than just seasonal; the vote has no credibility. It should be rerun according to a new, decent, professional process befitting the love people have for the game and its greatest sporting occasion.
We know more now than we did at the time about Fifa and the Exco members who gathered in Zurich in December 2010 to hear the final earnest submissions from bidding countries. The BBC’s Panorama, broadcast just before the vote, presented allegations by the journalist and long-term Fifa scourge Andrew Jennings that three senior Fifa Exco members, Ricardo Teixeira (of Brazil), Nicolás Leoz (Paraguay) and Issa Hayatou (Cameroon), had pocketed bribes from the marketing company ISL. That story has since been proven to be true by court documents in Zug, Switzerland, which Fifa and Blatter knew about all along. Fifa’s own ethics committee confirmed in April that Teixeira, Leoz and the long-term former president João Havelange were paid bribes. Hayatou was, in December 2011, reprimanded for receiving money by the International Olympic Committee, of which he was also a member.
Jack Warner, of Trinidad & Tobago, and Chuck Blazer, his New York-based erstwhile general secretary at the Concacaf football federation, were found by a detailed Concacaf investigation in April to have committed fraud and misappropriated football money. Warner has resigned from football for life, while Blazer is under Fifa investigation for allegedly embezzling $21m while at Concacaf.
Mohamed bin Hammam, from Qatar, at the time the challenger to Blatter’s presidency, was found by the court of arbitration for sport last year to “more likely than not” have brought cash to two meetings in May 2011 which was then handed to Fifa delegates.
Blatter will say he has implemented a process of reform since 2010, and to give the president credit, progress has been made, but that in itself makes the point: when the World Cup vote was taken, Fifa was unreformed. It was prey to and riddled with corruption. Blatter was found to have known about the bribes ISL paid, but he has sailed away from that, because receiving a bribe was not a crime according to Swiss law at the time.
Before Panorama was broadcast, the Football Association’s bid attacked it, writing to Warner, Blazer, Bin Hammam, Leoz, Teixeira and the others to say they felt, “as a member of the football family, solidarity with you”. After the programme, the bid smeared Panorama as “an embarrassment to the BBC”.
That response and the schmoozing of Fifa remains an embarrassment to the FA. It spent £18m of English football’s money and persuaded 12 local councils, now suffering swingeing government cuts and struggling to keep their swimming pools open, to spend £250,000 of public money each on the campaign to woo Fifa.
The FA presented its bid, alongside those other countries pleading for the World Cup, but then the Exco men, with no explanation required, sent 2018 to Russia and 2022 to tiny, rich Qatar, which has none of the 12 stadiums required, in the desert at the hottest time of the year. To a country with a well-documented record of exploitation of migrant construction workers they awarded the world’s biggest building project.
Blatter has since sniped that the English media’s focus on Fifa corruption came because England did not win. That is more self-delusion. The corruption has been proven.
Professor Mark Pieth of Basel University, called in by Blatter to recommend how to fumigate Fifa, concluded in his first report that the World Cup bidding process had been open to “corruption risk and conflict of interest concerns”.
Russia and Qatar deny doing anything improper, but corruption does not have to be proven; the process, and Fifa at the time, were hopelessly invalid. Pieth argues his reforms, introducing new compliance procedures and decent new people on the Exco, are making a difference. He says some objective criteria are being worked on for deciding the venue for a World Cup, to avoid wasting so much money on bids ultimately decided by undeclared motivations.
Transparency, accountability, honesty, integrity: Fifa claims it is reordering itself to ensure these qualities prevail, over the gleaming Swiss swamp it was before. So, when the reforms are complete, they should run a decent vote for 2018 and 2022, and if appropriate according to proper criteria, Russia and Qatar can make their cases again.