There has been a succession of stories in recent weeks exposing corruption within the FIFA committee designated to decide the location of the 2018 World Cup. The Sunday Times is the newspaper in question, having exposed two worrying stories over the past month. However, it is the reaction of senior FIFA officials, and even the English 2018 bid team that is the most worrying aspect of the whole story.
On October 17th, the Sunday Times published the account of an undercover operation that showed two FIFA executive committee members, Reynald Temarii and Amos Adamu, supposedly offering to sell their votes in the 2018 World Cup ballot. A team of Sunday Times reporters posed as lobbyists for a consortium of American companies wanting the USA to win the bid.
The Nigerian, Amos Adamu, supposedly wanted $800,000 to build four artificial football pitches in his country in exchange for his vote in the December ballot. The Tahitian, Reynald Temarii, allegedly wanted a payment to cover the cost of a new sports academy.
These allegations followed a warning from FIFA that countries bidding for the 2018 and the 2022 World Cups were banned from doing deals with each other, following rumours that one of the European nations had cut a deal with one of the 2022 hopefuls.
The following week, further allegations of corruption came out in another Sunday Times exclusive. They provided a video that appears to show former FIFA secretary general, Michel Zen-Ruffinen, suggesting that he can identify FIFA executive committee members that could be bribed for their votes. He described two unnamed members as being susceptible to financial payments, one as being "the guy you can have with ladies and not money," and a fourth as being "the biggest gangster you will find on earth, whose vote would cost a minimum of half a million dollars."
He also alleged that Spain and Portugal, who are jointly bidding for the 2018 World Cup, had agreed to a deal with Qatar, who are bidding for the 2022 World Cup, to exchange votes. All of these allegations have been strenuously denied by all parties involved, and we may never actually know the truth, even after all of the disciplinary proceedings have taken place.
It has been suggested in recent days that the revelations from the Sunday Times and a forthcoming episode of Panorama could harm the English bid. Indeed, the head of the English bid, Andy Anson, had a meeting with BBC director-general Mark Thompson to discuss the implications of Panorama being screened, and wondering whether it could be postponed until after the vote. The problem is that it seems as though they are asking the BBC to turn a blind eye to corruption to ensure that England succeed in their bid.
However, the worrying fact is that FIFA seems far more concerned with the "unethical measures" that have been used by the British media to expose corruption than trying to confront the actual alleged corruption itself. The Asian Football Confederation President, Mohamed Bin Hammam, described how "forging identities and setting traps are unethical behaviours in my point of view." However, would he rather these incidents had not been exposed, and those willing to sell their bids to the highest bidder be able to do so without any hassle?
Regardless of how you view the actions of the newspapers, it is the results that they have obtained that should be the thing worrying FIFA, rather than how they were obtained. Serious allegations of corruption concerning multiple members of the executive committee should be top of the agenda. However, FIFA’s record on confronting and preventing corruption is hardly exemplary.
Indeed, the whole process raises questions on whether the World Cup simply goes to the highest bidder rather than the country that has the best bid. The technical reports on each of the bids are due to be released later this month, and the English bid team are hopeful that they will be judged the strongest bid in those terms. However, England faces the very real prospect that they may lose out on the 2018 World Cup itself purely based on the fact that it has helped to expose corruption within the highest echelons of FIFA.
It should not be surprising that FIFA has reacted in such a way. They have the power and privileges that come with their position, and such power conveys great opportunities for the greedy and unscrupulous that they will do anything to protect. Unsavoury as this is, it is a simply fact. The exposés from the British media becomes an English problem, rather than a FIFA problem. However, the desire of our own bid team itself to try and cover up and withhold the reports is more disappointing.
Would we rather look the other way at blatant corruption in such a high profile organisation? Our media has revealed strong evidence that points at major problems within FIFA. But our own bid team not only do not comment on this evidence, but complain that it even came out and the harm done to the bid. It seems a damning view on our bid if we would rather corruption continues unreported.