The refusal by the International Federation of Football Associations (FIFA) to release the findings of its 350-page report can only lead to further speculation regarding allegations of corruption over the granting of the World Cup to Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022. It also suggests that nothing has changed within the powerful Zurich-based organization, which represents 209 member football associations worldwide.
According to the London Sunday Times, German judge Hans Joachim Eckert, who chairs the adjudicatory chamber of FIFA’s ethics committee, plans to keep the report “under lock and key forever”. The Munich-based jurist noted that the findings, which are based on 200,000 pages of evidence, would not even be shared with FIFA’s Swiss President Sepp Blatter, or any of its 27 executive members. Michael Garcia, a former US attorney for New York, who was appointed FIFA ethics investigator, is apparently furious.
Officially, FIFA maintains that it had always argued that the report would be kept confidential as this was part of the guarantee given to all executive council members interviewed. At the same time, FIFA had assured journalists that the results of this self-commissioned report to investigate itself would be made public.
The main question now is whether Qatar used illegal means to sway the FIFA decision in its favour. There are already signs that the report’s content is damning. According to German paper Sport Bild, Theo Zwanziger, a German FIFA Executive Committee member, said that the World Cup will not be held in Qatar because of “scorching temperatures”. For its part, Qatar has denied Zwanziger’s claim – as has FIFA, which argues that this is a “personal opinion”.
For years, FIFA has been accused of corruption in the form of “brown envelopes” and other incentives. As claimed earlier this year by the Sunday Times, Mohammed Bin Hammam, an ex-FIFA executive member for Qatar, had allegedly paid USD 5 million in bribes to secure the 2022 World Cup bid. It also asserted that Bin Hamman had made “dozens” of payments to top football bosses as a means of creating a “groundswell” for Qatar’s campaign, and lavished African officials with junkets and cash. Bin Hammam was ousted from the world of football at the end of 2012.
FIFA has suffered from other embarrassing blows, notably revelations that the Brazilians at the last World Cup had distributed 65 gift bags each containing a Parmigiani watch worth CHF 25,000 to FIFA executive committee members and other officials.
According to UEFA president Michel Platini, the former French footballer who now heads the Nyon-based Union of European Football Associations, it is a “mistake” for FIFA not to go public. As the governing body of 56 European football associations, UEFA is considered far more transparent than FIFA, primarily because of higher European governance standards.
One international football insider added that FIFA is seeking to continue with “business as usual and that nothing has changed”. Given that 75% of FIFA’s revenues come from TV rights and sponsorship, a lot has to do with money. But the real issue, he added, is about governance and transparency. This cannot happen with FIFA, a despotic organization, pretending to support two self-proclaimed “independent” investigative and adjudicating ethics commissions, which, in the end, it controls.
“I doubt this will affect grassroots football, but eventually there will be a tipping point,” he said. At the same time, he noted, it is possible to turn an organisation around successfully as happened with the International Olympic Committee in Lausanne which had been riddled with scandal.
Contacted by telephone, FIFA officials were reluctant to comment other than to refer to an online link on their website to the ethics committee. When asked to elaborate on concerns that without appropriate transparency, FIFA – as a Swiss foundation – could lose its tax-exempt status, a press spokesman said that he would have to check with the legal team, but they never comment in public anyway.