Significant questions remain unanswered about the World Cup bid process
Zurich, December 2010
It’s late on a snowy afternoon, and the Fifa president Sepp Blatter is about to make two short announcements that will shape the future of world football. The unveiling of the hosts of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups will conclude a long, controversial and sometimes acrimonious bid race that has dragged on between nine candidates for two years — longer in some cases.
Inside the conference hall at the cavernous Zurich Messe centre on the outskirts of the city, TV lights burn onto an empty stage and cameras glance across the room, beaming pictures to viewers in every country in the world. A cavalcade of international dignitaries, football royalty and celebrities have descended: Bill Clinton, the Emir of Qatar, Prince William and David Cameron sit among the likes of David Beckham, Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo, Elle Macpherson and Morgan Freeman.
At the back of the hall, where several hundred journalists and scores of camera crews are situated, a stony faced Gary Lineker appears. He is part of the England bid delegation and has learned his country’s fate from its Fifa vice-president, Geoff Thompson. “Two votes,” he says, shaking his head, before repeating himself as if he can’t quite believe it. “We were out in the first round.” He shakes his head again. “Two votes.”
In the early hours of the morning I had sat with officials from the England team in the bar of the Steigenberger Hotel, drinking overpriced pilsner and speculating on possible voting permutations. Then there had been a sense that the Russian bid — England’s main rivals — might be falling apart after news had broken that Vladimir Putin was not turning up for the final hours of hustings. The Russian Prime Minister had sent out a rambling, paranoid statement, suggesting he wanted no part in what he seemed to say was a flawed process. It appeared to be the work of a man who was staring down his nose at defeat. Among the English the mood was one of cautious optimism. Nobody had anticipated humiliation.
We take our seats at the back of the room with a sense of looming inevitability. The results are supposed to be kept secret by the notary of the city of Zurich, in a sealed envelope to be handed over to Blatter who will announce them. But for 30 minutes Al Jazeera has been reporting victory for Qatar in the 2022 race. Blatter appears on stage and goes through his preamble; he is pugnacious, charming and sly. An Australian journalist mutters about his country needing a miracle. Then my colleague shows me a tweet from Dmitry Chernyshenko, the chief executive of the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi: “Yesss! We are the champions! Hooray!!!!” A couple of minutes later Blatter confirms that Russia will indeed host the 2018 World Cup. There are roars from the Russian bid delegation, who join Blatter on stage to raise the World Cup trophy. Some very pissed-off looking Englishmen watch on morosely.
The room calms as Blatter gets ready to open the envelope with the 2022 winner. Nobody is really taking the Al Jazeera reports too seriously and there’s a sense that almost anything could happen. Two of Qatar’s bid strategists are sat in front of me and nothing in their manner suggests a stitch up.
Blatter takes the envelope and introduces the five candidates for the 2022 finals. Then opening it, he says: “And the winner, to host the two-twenty-two World Cup is…” The card bearing the name of Qatar appears a fraction of a second before the word leaves Blatter’s mouth.
The bid strategists jump up and pump the air with their fists as the room is filled with a mixture of horror and joy. All of us there know that world football will never be the same again.
The race to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups was a contest in which all of Fifa’s mismanagement, vested interests, palace politics and misconceptions were swilled around and then poured into the public sphere. It was a contest that will in years to come be considered emblematic of the Fifa that we know. I covered every twist and turn as a reporter. It was the most extraordinary story I ever worked on. On the way I met hundreds of people: prime ministers, princes, sheikhs, sport politicians, PR men, lobbyists, technocrats, conmen and an incredible array of hangers on. I even encountered some players, too.
Yet covering the bid race, such as it was, was largely ephemeral. As reporters, we were duty bound to cover all the press releases and puffery from the bid teams, but were never really aware how much of this was filtering through to Fifa’s executive committee — the 24 men of destiny who would vote on a winner. Despite the PR coups some bids pulled off (England retaining Paul the Octopus, Australia having Nicole Kidman front its promotional video) these were the only people who ultimately counted.
Nor were we ever sure what they were thinking. We had an idea of what was going on behind the scenes, but only a minority of Exco members were ever willing to speak on the record. Even then they were conspicuous in emphasising their neutrality or pushing the benefits of their own nation’s bid. Seven (England, Holland-Belgium, South Korea, Qatar, Russia, Spain-Portugal, USA) of the 10 bids that started out in 2009 had representation on the executive committee, placing those that didn’t (Australia, Indonesia and Mexico) at a conspicuous disadvantage.
To understand Fifa one must first understand the extraordinary culture of privileges and luxury afforded to its elected personnel. The professionals who administer it — the multi-lingual marketing men, lawyers, press officers and diplomats — are, on the whole, efficient, businesslike, courteous and a credit to their organisation. But the elected and unelected officials who govern Fifa via its 24-man executive committee and 25 standing committees are — with a few exceptions — utterly wretched: self-serving, grasping and wedded to the lavish hospitality culture that Fifa provides. Some have been proven corrupt. In all cases they enjoy a lifestyle beyond the wildest dreams of most football supporters: five-star hotels, business-class travel, endless banquets and hospitality, VVIP match tickets, per diems for themselves and their wives (or mistresses), chauffeur-driven Mercedes. At the top end of the very top table are the 24 executive committee members, who are treated like demigods. As well as all the freebies they get a $10,000 per month honorarium, $500 per day expenses, plus $200 for their travelling companions. No receipts are needed, of course.
In deciding the hosts of the 2018 and 2022 finals, these men were trusted with decisions that would define football’s future and have implications, in some cases, beyond their own lifetimes. But before them was a blank sheet. They had no guidance and no agenda. Fifa’s bid guidelines didn’t stipulate that new territory should be breached, or — given a backdrop of global financial upheaval throughout the bid process — that an existing power be favoured for the sake of a ‘safe’ World Cup. Fifa offered no advice on TV and commercial markets they wished to corner, legacy aspects, nor what a host nation should offer in terms of football development.
Indeed, the process was entirely subjective and down to the whims of the Fifa Executive Committee. Blatter — as president — held the casting vote if they were unable to come to a majority decision between them. It turned out that wasn’t necessary.
Decision day ended with Vladimir Putin — who flew in immediately after the result — taking questions from a roomful of journalists in an impromptu two hour-long press conference. When it was over, as we trudged into the cold Zurich night, we all asked the question that we’re still asking: “How did that happen?”
Doha, January 2011
Within minutes of Blatter’s announcement in Zurich, the two top trending topics globally on Twitter were “Quatar” and “Katar”. The confusion over spelling seemed to embody many of the misconceptions about the tiny desert state and its plans to host the greatest show on earth.
Six weeks later I’m sitting in Blatter’s hotel suite in Doha’s Four Seasons Hotel, ahead of the opening of the AFC Asian Cup. A day earlier one of his principal enemies and rivals for the Fifa presidency, Chung Mong-joon, had been voted off the Fifa executive committee and replaced by an ally, Jordan’s Prince Ali bin Hussein. Blatter is ebullient, taking swipes at his rivals and waving his press officer to sit down when he tries to draw proceedings to a close.
The previous week Franz Beckenbauer had said that the 2022 World Cup should be switched to winter to counter the extremities of Qatar’s summer. Blatter, as is his way, picks up on this contentious theme. “Now, look at what players are saying and what people in Fifa are saying,” Blatter says. “I personally think now that the decision is taken that we must play at the most adequate period to have a successful World Cup. To have a successful World Cup we have to protect the ‘actors’ and the ‘actors’ here are the players. Which means winter — maybe January, or the end of the year… If there is really a will to change the date of the World Cup in 2022 we have enough time.”
Qatar, according to all prevailing logic, has no case to be a World Cup host. It is a tiny country with a population of under two million (only around 15% of whom are native Qataris), a climate that can rise well above 35° Celsius in summer and no record of footballing accomplishments. Fifa’s own inspectors had concluded that parts of its bid proposal were “high risk” and that its plans posed “logistical problems”. When it was awarded the tournament the country sat 112th in Fifa’s world rankings and had never come close to qualifying for a World Cup. South Africa, about which similar concerns were once voiced, was 39th when Fifa awarded it the 2010 finals.
And yet there was a strange sort of rationale to Fifa’s decision to award Qatar the tournament. The “logistical challenges” and “high-risk” factors — the searing heat, the size, the need to build an entire new city, as well as numerous new stadiums and other facilities — were tackled by its well-organised bid campaign. Cooling technologies — essentially outdoor air conditioning — are already successfully used in several of the country’s stadiums and the bid proposed to develop a second generation so that they were powered by the sun. The construction tasks that lie ahead are epic — Lusail, the new city which is hosting the final, is currently a handful of buildings in the desert — but the country’s almost unimaginable wealth means that the ambitious and detailed plans they have are feasible. Reimagine the World Cup as an Olympic-style event, and the size of the country becomes less of an issue too.
Above all, Fifa under Blatter is an organisation fixated both with its own legacy and the notion of making football mankind’s central cultural activity. Giving the World Cup to Qatar — one of the few places in the region with the political stability and cultural liberalism to host such an event — at once opens up the Middle East to football and changes perceptions of a misunderstood part of the world in a way that nothing else could.
Yet the howls of outrage at Qatar’s candidacy were as immediate as they were inevitable. Brian Glanville described it as a “wretched little anonymity of a football country” and “Bin Hammam’s dismal desert state”. The Australian broadcaster Les Murray added that it was “ludicrous”. “Fifa is in big trouble,” he warned. “Nobody will believe that Qatar won this process legitimately.” Murray’s criticisms were significant, for he is also a member of Fifa’s well-fed but largely impotent ethics committee.
A day after meeting Blatter, I meet Hassan Al Thawadi, the successful bid’s chief executive, in the lobby of the same hotel. Still only in his early thirties, a graduate of Sheffield University who sat his A-Levels in Scunthorpe, Al Thawadi is immediately likeable, charming and persuasive. His American-inflected pronouncements are rapid fire and he apologises, self-deprecatingly, for his “verbal diarrhoea”. He speaks with candour, pride and humility about winning the World Cup. Off mic there is a genuine sense of hurt at some of the insinuations already made about his country. Yet beneath the charm lies an obvious intent. A former colleague of his once told me, “He can be ruthless. He’ll do anything it takes to get what he wants.” An agent from the PR firm Brown Lloyd James sits in with us. She speaks only to order the three of us water.
I ask him about the prospect of a winter World Cup. Outside the sun is dropping and it’s a steady 24°. The prospect of football in such a climate seems enticing. “We’re ready to host the World Cup whenever it’s meant to be hosted,” he says. Then he neatly throws the ball back into Blatter and Beckenbauer’s court. “If Fifa takes the path that it is hosted in the winter time, we are ready to host it in the winter time. We’re looking to host the World Cup as we submitted, as per our bid book, during the required times by Fifa. At this moment in time we’re looking at the summer period for 2022.”
But the questions about Qatar’s suitability won’t go away. Al Thawadi’s comments are largely ignored and the presumption remains that Qatar intends to change a summer event to suit its climate. Every time, it seems, that there’s a Fifa gathering, Blatter or some other Exco member are asked about Qatar, and the winter World Cup issue comes up. In March scientists at Qatar University claim to have developed artificial clouds to provide shade for stadiums and training grounds at the 2022 World Cup. The story is ludicrous and becomes another stick with which to beat Qatar 2022. Al Thawadi’s team are deluged with calls. They claim to know nothing about the prototypes.
By then troubling questions are also raised in the British and US media about the methods used to gain Qatar’s victory. A former media officer who left the bid in March 2010 has turned on her former employers and begun passing on documents and allegations to journalists. TheWall Street Journalclaims that a payment of $78.4 million from Qatar to help the Argentinian Football Association (AFA) was considered by bid officials to earn the favour of the AFA boss Julio Grondona, an Exco member. Various allegations about the reach of the country’s influential Aspire sporting academy are raised. There are even tales of an unseemly bidding war with Australia to gain the favour of Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Quite how this would win a World Cup bid is unclear.
Everyone on the old bid circuit seems to know who the whistleblower is. There doesn’t appear to be a smoking gun but the allegations and drips of innuendo are troubling. The Qataris turn in on themselves, seemingly powerless to silence her. They become reluctant to speak to the press but can’t quite cut all lines of communication. As spring comes and the heat starts to rise in Doha, it seems that barely a day goes by without a bid official or source calling me to sound off about my colleagues in the British media or complain about the whistleblower. I’m never sure if I’m being briefed or am merely there to listen to their mounting frustration.
We talk about how Qatar won the World Cup over and over. Officials insist, again and again, that they think it was the final presentation that ultimately made their bid a winner. And it was brilliant. But then so was England’s. The Qataris rehash the virtues of their bid. I was one of the few observers who thought they had a plausible case. But when I think of their innovative and ambitious bid, their youthful leaders, their idealistic concept of World Cup for “the entire Middle East”, I then think of some of the Fifa Exco members who were meant to vote for them — old, conservative, corrupt in some cases, racist in a few as well — and wonderhow can this be?
Of course the bid game was never just about football, and the bid committee were just part of a multi-fronted effort to win the World Cup. Qatar’s government has used football and sport in general to assert itself on a global stage for many years. All governments who took the bid process seriously exerted some level of diplomatic or trade pressure. This could certainly impact some if not many of the Exco.
Take Jacques Anouma of Côte d’Ivoire. His home country has suffered years of civil unrest, secessionist movements and failed elections. The modus operandi of Laurent Gbagbo, its president from 2000 to 2011, was to cancel elections and to send out death squads to terrify and murder his opponents, including many women and children.
Anouma was not only a “very close associate” of the president, but his “personal financial adviser” too. According to Lord Triesman, the former chief executive of the Football Association, “there was not a prayer” that Anouma would do anything that President Gbagbo did not want him to do. “You could take him to see Old Trafford and Wembley; you could talk to him about football until the cows came home, but the reality was that that would be something that was much more likely to be directed by a ruthless dictator in charge of that country,” said Triesman.
Nor was Anouma alone in his links to questionable regimes. At Fifa events, Egypt’s Hany Abu Rida was conspicuous in his light-coloured suits and oversized aviator shades resembling, as one FA official put it to me, “a 1980s Middle East dictator”. Perhaps he took inspiration from his friends, the Mubaraks, who had ruled Egypt with an iron fist since 1981, pillaging the country’s wealth and ruthlessly suppressing their opponents. According to Triesman, Abu Rida was a “very close associate” of the Mubarak family. He said that it was pointless seeking favour with Abu Rida “unless there was some agreement at a more senior level”. Abu Rida, like Anouma, was in his view merely the puppet of a dictatorship. “These were regimes that were not only capable of deciding who should be in all of these key positions but determining their behaviour,” he said. Including, it seems, their World Cup votes.
Then there were the trade deals between Qatar and home nations of Exco members. Throughout 2010, Qatar’s state-owned airline unveiled massively subsidised routes to Argentina and Brazil. In August, the Emir of Qatar made an official state visit to Paraguay to finalise one of the biggest trade deals in the country’s history. Of course all this may just be coincidence but all three South American Exco members — an Argentinian, a Brazilian and a Paraguayan — all apparently voted for Qatar. So it seems did Michel Platini, who was allegedly asked to vote for Qatar by the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, as completion of a deal to buy French aircraft by Qatar Airways neared [see Philippe Auclair’s piece for more details on the relationship between Platini and Qatar].
Qatar played the Fifa development game as well. Fifa was always keen on legacy aspects of all bid proposals, a desire that was largely undefined. England would send John Barnes or David Beckham to carry out coaching clinics in the developing world, but Qatar had grander plans. It unveiled a scheme to construct modular stadiums for the World Cup and donate them to the developing world after the finals. Aspire — Doha’s sports science institute and arena — also opened offshoots in Guatemala and Thailand. Conveniently those countries also have Exco members, Rafael Salguero and Worawi Makudi.
All this was perfectly legitimate according to Fifa’s rather loose bid guidelines. Qatar was just better able to exploit their ambiguities than some of their rivals. You wonder whether Fifa deliberately left the guidelines lax so that bid teams could exploit them to Exco members’ benefit or whether they were simply incompetent.
A few weeks later I get an unexpected email from an old acquaintance asking me to call her. Like the rest of the world I’d heard much about Phaedra Al Majid, now notorious as the backtracking ‘Qatari whistleblower’, but had neither seen nor heard from her since she unexpectedly left what was then the Qatar bid in March 2010. A US citizen of Iraqi descent, Al Majid was an experienced media manager, rewarded with a senior position on the Qatar bid after impressing on the local organising committee staff at the 2006 Asian Games. She was effectively second in command to the bid’s director of communications, Nasser al-Khater.
The narrative of bid politics tended to cast its protagonists as somewhat faceless participants in a game of international power politics but Phaedra was very real: passionate, committed and liked by those who worked with her. The circuit also set up all sorts of unlikely encounters and while she was working for the Qataris we met at a bid expo in the shadow of Cape Town’s Table Mountain, with the Emir’s son in the backroom of a Johannesburg conference hall and in a Soho basement with Gabriel Batistuta. We also spent an amusing 40 minutes unsuccessfully traipsing around a Doha car park after she forgot where her car was parked following a friendly between England and Brazil in November 2009. I tell her that I saw a dusty, rotting shell of a car in the Khalifa Stadium car park on my last visit and she laughs that it was probably hers.
We talk about what’s happened since she left the bid and she says that she was unsurprised that Qatar won in the end and believes, that despite everything, the Arab world should host the World Cup. She says that despite the question marks over Qatar’s infrastructure and the searing heat that she has no doubt it will host an amazing tournament.
The conversation turns to the affidavit. I tell her that the circumstances seem strange, that in some minds the whole thing smacks of a conspiracy. She says she can’t talk about it, that I must speak to her lawyer at Troutman Sanders (who subsequently says, beguilingly, “the affidavit is far from the whole truth”).
Neither he, nor Phaedra, say any more. The sense that nothing is ever as it seems with Qatar is heightened once again.
In May we trudge up to the Palace of Westminster for a parliamentary select committee hearing into the governance of football. A session has been specially convened to hear about England’s World Cup bid and Fifa. Rumours abound about shock revelations in store.
Lord Triesman, ousted as head of England’s World Cup bid mid-campaign after a tabloid newspaper sting that prompted suspicions of a stitch-up by rivals, is the star turn. He speaks candidly about the demands of some of the Fifa Exco members, claiming that the Paraguayan, Nicolás Leoz, asked for a knighthood in return for his vote.
Then comes Mike Lee, a bid consultant for Qatar. Lee is one of the smoothest operators in sport politics, a brilliant PR man who has worked on successful Olympic bids for London, Rio di Janeiro and Pyeongchang, as well as Qatar 2022. He is here to talk about England’s shortcomings, a favourite subject of his. But midway through his evidence session, he is hijacked by Louise Bagshawe MP, who provides a written statement from the Sunday Times. It alleges Qatar paid $1.5million bribes to Jacques Anouma and Issa Hayatou.
Smirks light up the faces of a roomful of journalists as Lee is left to squirm in his chair. “I thought we were discussing 2018,” he says.
The statements are based on evidence provided by the Qatari whistleblower, and so Bagshawe has used Parliamentary privilege to float the allegations. Libel laws mean that it would never otherwise have seen the light of day. The Qataris are furious. Their World Cup is tainted again. But nothing further comes out.
A name circulates of an alleged bagman, a Guinean called Amadou Diallo, about whom rumours have been floating for almost a year without any firm allegation being made. Diallo is a former Fifa development officer and now part of the entourage of the AFC president Mohamed Bin Hammam. Someone who worked with him at Fifa described him to me as a “cockroach.”
Bin Hammam is fighting Sepp Blatter for the Fifa presidency. It seems, at times, as if this tiny gulf kingdom is taking over world football. Bin Hammam has been on the Fifa Exco since 1996 and was formerly a close ally of Blatter. He is one of the most powerful men in the game and also has the ear of the Emir of Qatar. It has been claimed that he used his wealth and influence to help Blatter win the Fifa presidency in 1998.
For the World Cup bid Bin Hammam was the third strand — along with the Qatari government and the bid team itself — operating to secure its success. He was the Exco arch-strategist, a man who cleverly built up a platform — via a secret deal with Spain-Portugal, who were bidding for the 2018 finals —that formed the basis of its victory. The pact was a symptom of the ludicrous decision to have a dual bid process and it gave Qatar seven votes to start, a formidable number when just 13 were needed to win.
Yet Bin Hammam’s Fifa presidential ambitions are to come crashing down dramatically, calling into question the World Cup victory. Ahead of the June vote he criss-crosses the globe trying to get the support of Fifa’s 208 federations who will decide between him and Sepp Blatter. As the campaign progresses he keeps a low profile as Blatter seemed increasingly desperate for votes. “The election is hard to predict,” Bin Hammam wrote in an email to me on 5 May. “I remain in the same optimism of 50% chances, although I am doing reasonably okay.”
He granted me one of the few interviews he gave on the campaign trail. “Most of Fifa’s challenges lie with its image,” he said. “Being the most popular game played every day by millions of people, football attracts massive attention from the fans and media worldwide. As a result, all of Fifa’s actions and decisions, even at the minute level, will be under microscopic scrutiny and a problem in Fifa will be magnified a thousand times over compared to a similar problem in another organisation. For this reason, people working within Fifa must be extra careful and more cautious in their acts as their behaviour will be analysed, watched and monitored closely.”
His words proved prescient. Unfortunately for Bin Hammam events intervened and the interview was never published. On 24 May, just a week after the British parliamentary hearing, Bin Hammam was accused of distributing $40,000 cash bribes at a meeting of Caribbean federation chiefs. Video footage later emerged of the Concacaf president Jack Warner urging delegates to take the money. Bin Hammam withdrew from the Fifa presidential race. Fifa subsequently banned him from football for life. The stench of sulphur rose.
Among the Qatari organisers, tensions rose to breaking point. There was talk of the Emir’s direct involvement. The mood was thick with paranoia and a paralysis crept over the team, heightened when the Fifa general secretary Jérôme Valcke said in a leaked email that Qatar had “bought” the World Cup, a reference he claimed was to their astronomical bid budget rather than other forms of inducement. Again the headlines went global.
Nothing seemed to go right for Qatar 2022. In July, as Doha sweltered, several prominent British journalists visited the desert kingdom. While they were there, the whistleblower outed herself. Phaedra Al Majid was a feisty media manager who had worked on the bid until March 2010. She had “wanted revenge after losing her job” but her “lies had gone too far” and in a sworn affidavit retracted the allegations she had passed on to journalists and, indirectly, the British parliament. It was a sensational development, seemingly defying all credibility. Privately the Qataris claimed that with the journalists in town, it provided more problems than solutions as it appeared stage-managed. From afar, the whole thing smacked of a conspiracy.
Ten weeks later I caught up with Hassan Al Thawadi again. One of the first things I asked him about was the circumstances surrounding Al Majid’s affidavit. “It seems as if we’re living in a damned if you do damned if you don’t scenario,” he sighed. “What had happened was that she contacted a member of the bid team. During the course of the conversation she wanted to make amends. She admitted to lying. She wanted to find the best way of making amends. For us we wanted to make sure that everything was above board to avoid any of these views that we might have in any way insinuated anything or forced anything and accordingly we made our lawyers aware of the conversation and the fact that were would be an affidavit signed. Accordingly the lawyers were on board — three different law firms — in taking the affidavit in ensuring there was nothing suspicious in the matter.”
Al Thawadi insists that any public statements were made of Al Majid’s own volition. I ask if there was any pressure put upon her. “None whatsoever,” he replies. Was she offered any financial inducements? “None whatsoever.”
It’s early October and we’re in London for the Leaders in Football conference at Stamford Bridge, where he’s giving the keynote speech. A hitherto low key visit has evolved into something more and the Qatari delegation of three has quadrupled. In an executive box a harassed aide tries to juggle the logistics of the VIPs and the demands of the British press pack. A hyperactive reporter from a Sunday newspaper calls every five minutes, demanding an exclusive interview with “the Sheikh” [sic]. Mohamed Awada, Bin Hammam’s former PR man, loiters in the background. Awada once accused one of Bin Hammam’s enemies of engaging in “black magic”; I wonder to myself what would happen if he were unleashed on the British press corps.
I ask Al Thawadi if the reporting on Qatar has always been fair. “That’s a loaded question,” he laughs. “Without criticising anyone in particular the reporting took on board one perspective and maybe didn’t consider another perspective on other matters. So, to give a simple answer, I think it was unfair.”
But don’t people have a right to question given what we know about the conduct of some Fifa members? “I don’t see that,” he says “With all due respect… there’s been criticism for a significant number of years and a significant number of bids. My simple question is, had the United States or Australia won, would the same questions have arisen? I don’t know. The way the whole campaign started against Qatar it makes me wonder if the same questions might not have been asked, or asked as passionately. All I can say from our side is that we did not break any of Fifa’s rules. We did not compromise any of our principles. We knew what was at stake and if we compromised these principles or these rules it was not just going to be the embarrassment of the bid, it was going to be the embarrassment of the country and with the country striving to achieve so much, there was no way we were going to compromise it with a stupid action.”
I ask if anyone ever asked for inappropriate inducements. His answer is monosyllabic but emphatic: “No.”
He seems unusually weary. He’d told me in January that the first thing he did after the host announcement was sleep. The bid race was exhausting for everyone involved but little could he have imagined on 2 December that the spotlight was still to be cranked up to full beam. I ask if he thinks the questions and insinuations about Qatar’s conduct will ever end. “I think we’ll work very very hard towards achieving the dreams about the Middle East,” he says. “Whether these questions stop or not I don’t know, in all honesty. I do hope so. People can be cynical, fair enough. But we will dispel all cynicism on the ground when they see our actions: when people see that every promise we have made, every ambition we’ve put towards this World Cup, every dream that is hanging on this World Cup will be achieved - we’ll put those cynical thoughts to rest.”
London, May 2011
In a hotel suite in the west end of London, the Australian documentary maker Quentin McDermott from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’sFour Corners programme is interviewing the controversial football consultant, Peter Hargitay. It’s for his latest film, about Australia’s failed World Cup bid. Despite blowing Aus$46.7 million of taxpayers’ money on their bid, nobody from Football Federation Australia (FFA) has seen fit to give an account of what went wrong. Flanked by his lawyer and even his own camera crew, Hargitay, a 60-year-old Swiss-Hungarian, is doing what no other representative of the lavishly funded bid has been willing to do.
“So we lost,” says Hargitay. “Now are we proud of it? Of course not. Could we have avoided it? Maybe not. In hindsight, maybe not. But hindsight doesn’t help. To go on and on about it, you spent 0.00045% of your GDP on this bid but you would have earned 10 to 15% of your GDP [these figures are highly contentious; most observers suggest even a best case scenario the boost to GDP would be no more than 2%] had you won. Isn’t that a risk worth taking?”
Many in Australia say that it was.
Of the nine nations bidding for the World Cup, Australia’s fared worst, gaining just one of 22 possible votes in the election for the 2022 finals, and being eliminated in the first round. In its final stages Australia’s bid was toxic: flaccid, badly thought out, supremely arrogant, lacking empathy with grassroots football in its own country. It was epitomised by an atrocious final presentation: a film involving an animated kangaroo and a score of Australian celebrities; then the country’s football idol, Tim Cahill, left silently to stand on stage in Zurich as a mere adornment while Elle Mcpherson and Australia’s bid chairman, Frank Lowy, took charge of proceedings. It seemed indicative of the bid’s lack of understanding of the game.
And yet Australia is important because it tells us much about Fifa and the way that many countries went about their bid business.
The Australian World Cup bid had its origins almost a decade ago, when state and federal governments identified it as an aspiration. It gathered momentum during the 2006 World Cup finals, which saw Australia’s first appearance in a generation and the FFA chairman Frank Lowy deeply impressed by Germany’s party atmosphere. Lowy announced in October the following year that Australia intended to bid and soon extracted from their new prime minister, Kevin Rudd, a pledge of government support.
When putting together a bid team, there was an acknowledgement that Australia was a minnow in the murky waters of football politics. It had no Fifa Exco representation and had only joined the AFC in 2006. Many in Asia still consider it an outsider. “We would be naive to think that we, as a relative newcomer on the international football stage, had all the expertise to deliver the best outcome,” the FFA chief executive Ben Buckley admitted in an interview with theAustralian Financial Reviewin 2010. He spoke of the need to engage “international organisations to assist with the bid.” In Australia’s case this meant a team of three controversial European consultants.
One of these was Fedor Radmann, an Austrian veteran of the collapsed sports marketing company ISL, who had gone on to play a key role in Germany’s successful bid to host the 2006 World Cup. Germany arguably put on the greatest finals in the history of the tournament. But the decision to award the finals to Germany ahead of South Africa in 2000 was described to me by a Blatter aide as “the greatest scandal in the history of Fifa”. A nexus of hidden payments, secret deals and alleged threats secured Germany’s victory at the last — but only after Oceania’s Charlie Dempsey mysteriously absconded from the vote, leaving Germany to win by 12 votes to 11. Germany’s Manager Magazin, which in 2003 meticulously unravelled the German bid, described Radmann as Germany’s “puppet master”. Radmann, who subsequently worked for South Africa’s successful World Cup bid and briefly served as chief executive of Salzburg’s 2014 Olympic bid, was hired along with his long term associate, Andreas Abold.
The other notable appointment was Hargitay, a man for whom the journalistic euphemism “colourful” seems to have been invented. In the 1980s he worked as a spin doctor for Union Carbide, the US chemicals company whose plant in Bhopal was responsible for a leak that Greenpeace estimates caused the deaths of 20,000 people. Hargitay was hired to gloss up the company’s image; almost three decades later many of the disaster’s victims await justice. He moved on to work for Marc Rich, America’s greatest tax-dodger and an apartheid sanctions-buster who appears on the US’s top 10 most wanted list. Later there were other business interests in film and, curiously, a Zurich-based private investigation agency.
There were also his own brushes with the law. In 1995 Jamaican detectives seized cocaine on a ship belonging to a Hargitay company. He was arrested, tried and cleared. Two years later he was arrested in Miami en route to Europe and detained on suspicion of cocaine trafficking. Again, he was cleared and freed, but only after serving seven months behind bars.
Despite this interesting past, Sepp Blatter saw fit to hire him as a special adviser around the time of the 2002 World Cup. The decision followed the collapse of ISL, a presidential challenge from Issa Hayatou and the rebellion of his general secretary, Michel Zen Ruffinen, along with several of his executive committee. Blatter was no Marc Rich, but his reputation had taken a beating. For the next five years Hargitay was frequently seen at the Fifa president’s side. Such access purportedly made him one of the best connected operators in football. He briefly worked for England’s nascent World Cup bid before taking on a well-paid consultancy with the Australian bid. What could possibly go wrong?
Large aspects of the consultants’ briefs were to engage with the members of the Fifa Executive Committee. This would mean meeting, presenting, persuading and, invariably, entertaining and using Australian taxpayers’ money to partake in the lavish hospitality culture for which Fifa is renowned. “I happen to have the access so our team has the access,” Hargitay bragged to the Sydney Morning Herald in June 2010. “I believe it is unparalleled access. Access means there is trust. I can say that Mr Blatter gives me his trust, so does the secretary-general [Valcke] who shapes opinions. All the key [executive committee] members who have been long-serving, I know them personally and there is a level of trust that I am proud to enjoy.”
Even before the consultants came on board, the Exco had had a taste of Australian largesse. When the Fifa Congress was hosted in Sydney in May 2008, Frank Lowy held a private dinner at his residence for the Exco at which the men from Fifa received gifts of Paspaley pearl cufflinks. Their partners received pearl pendants. The jewellery, paid for by the FFA, was worth close to $100,000. Australia was still to formally lodge its bid and thus was not bound by its rules. These stated that anything given during the World Cup bidding process should be no more than “occasional gifts that are generally regarded as having symbolic or incidental value”.
Yet when the bid process started the stakes were raised even higher. At meetings held in April 2008 and March 2009 between Frank Lowy, Ben Buckley and the OFC president and Fifa Exco member Reynald Temarii, the Australians were handed a shopping list. This included Hyundai vehicles for each of its associations apart from New Zealand and TV rights for the broadcast of A-League and Australia games in Oceania. Because they had no Exco member of their own, Temarii’s vote was absolutely fundamental to their bid strategy. An internal bid team document resolved to “work with AusAID [Australia’s international development agency] and commercial partners to deliver on OFC’s request.” The FFA went back to the Australian government and requested additional money for international football development in Oceania. Surprisingly they agreed. In August 2009, Temarii, Buckley and the Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd signed a partnership agreement with Oceania promising funding of “up to Aus $4 million over three years”.
Nor was Oceania alone in benefitting from Australian taxpayer-funded generosity. Five days after the agreement with Temarii, a memorandum of understanding was signed with the AFC president Mohamed Bin Hammam, pledging Aus $5.1million to its Vision Asia football development programme. Bin Hammam was so grateful for this donation that he announced the following June that his confederation — of which Australia was, of course, a member — would be backing a European candidate for the 2018 finals.
A further cooperation agreement was signed with the Indonesian FA (PSSI), at a time when the archipelago was still a host candidate. Its federation president then, Nurdin Halid, is a fraudster who twice ran the PSSI from a prison cell, once while serving custodial sentences for stealing food aid from tsunami victims. He is reviled in his own country but this didn’t stop Lowy from being photographed with him and describing their friendship as “strong”. The Bakrie family, to whom Halid is closely associated, subsequently bought the Brisbane Lions A League franchise. Such are the prices you have to pay if hosting the World Cup.
Australia’s money went far and wide and was spent in little ways and large. Everybody was desperate to court the nefarious Concacaf president Jack Warner and the bloc of three Exco votes he carried even though they were committed to the USA bid, which fell within his confederation and was favourite for the 2022 finals. No matter. When he complained, more than a year after the Sydney Fifa Congress, that his wife Maureen hadn’t received her pearls, an FFA official was immediately dispatched to buy her a $2000 necklace.
Far larger favours were spread to the Caribbean, despite the slim chances of a return. When, in September 2009, Trinidad and Tobago’s under-20 team went to a training camp in Cyprus, the FFA picked up the tab. “As a developed nation within football, FFA has a responsibility to promote football and social development among less developed nations,” Buckley explained when the news broke the following year. “Commitment to furthering international relations and football and social development is also a critical requirement within the bidding process.” A further memorandum of understanding was signed with the Jamaican federation in October 2010 worth $2.5million of funding. Hargitay, who has a home in Jamaica, was photographed looking on as the document was signed.
Almost a year after the hosts were decided, I catch up with Bonita Mersiades, the former head of corporate affairs at the FFA. For years Mersiades has had a formidable reputation both within Australian football and beyond. She is someone simultaneously in tune with football’s grassroots and its corridors of power, rare qualities that set her apart from most other administrators, particularly in Australia. For a long time she was a confidante of Frank Lowy and was part of the movement that cleaned up the cesspit of Australian football in the early 2000s. Mersiades left the bid and the FFA in January 2010 after falling foul of Hargitay. Some say that she was sacked for being too honest.
I asked her about life on the bid circuit and what it told her about Fifa. “The bid process in terms of them saying, ‘We’re going to send out this document on a certain date and you’ll respond by this day, etc’ worked like clockwork,” she says. “But beyond the actual process and the bureaucracy of Fifa, it was very haphazard. There was too much focus put on those 24 individuals and there would sometimes be unwelcome demands from some of them. I think inserting the Fifa Exco into the bid process was part of a flawed environment.”
Was the bid designed to appeal to the best interests of football, or the 24 men, or was it a two-tracked approach also aimed at the wider world? “I think that was probably one of the mistakes we made,” she admits. “From my perspective it was always about what was best for football and particularly what was best for Australian football because you have to have a legacy for football within your own country as well as more broadly for the game.
“I think there was a view within some in the bidding team that it was only the 24 individuals. There are many things that went wrong with the Australian bid. But certainly in 2010 we lost sight of what the actual World Cup was about — the football, fans and players. We lost a closeness with what we were trying to achieve by focusing on those 24 men to our detriment.”
Indeed, it soon became clear that she was the glue that stuck together the public image of the Australian bid. Without her it quickly collapsed into acrimony. There was a bitter falling out with rival codes of domestic football that almost brought the bid crashing down. There were numerous PR gaffes and missed opportunities. There was unbridled paranoia towards the domestic media which even led to the public service broadcaster, SBS, dropping web-based articles critical of the bid. On the bidding circuit Australia’s opponents described them as aloof, arrogant and unpleasant; qualities they carried into their daily conduct with the international media.
All the while astronomical amounts of taxpayers’ money continued to be spent. According to the bid team’s audited accounts, the bid book, technical inspection and final presentation cost a staggering Aus $10.3 million. This was a sum roughly equivalent to the USA’s entire bid budget. For the final bid presentation film they hired the Hollywood director Philip Noyce, an 80-man crew and 300 extras. The CGI kangaroo took 6,000 hours to animate. The bill was added to the taxpayers’ tab.
Of the Aus $42.7million spent by Australia, the bid consultants were paid a total of Aus $5.1million — a sum that would have risen considerably with win bonuses. Hargitay’s company received Aus $1.45m of this. In most eyes this is not bad going for 18 months work. Hargitay, however, described it as a “pittance”.
“Our objectives are understood very well in Concacaf despite the fact that the US are a competitor,” he had boasted in June 2010. “We are even better understood in South America. Eventually, one, two or three will drop by the wayside and that’s when phase two will kick in. I am absolutely confident that if there is only one Asian bidder left then all four votes from Asia will go to them. That I am sure of.”
And yet Australia’s consultants brought them just a single vote, apparently from Franz Beckenbauer — a close friend of Radmann, but a vote the FFA had been confident of securing even before the consultants’ engagement. Even that had a heavy price. A 2007 cooperation agreement between the FFA and the German football federation saw Australia stand aside in the race to host the Women’s World Cup. Surely that prize wasn’t given up to win a measly vote towards the men’s tournament?
“The evidence suggests the consultants were not value for money,” says Mersiades. “If we had won, it is unlikely that anyone would have raised questions about the value for money of the consultants or how the bid was won. There was — and still is — a view from many that winning the bid was such a valuable end in itself for football in Australia that the means was irrelevant. While some people involved in the bid held their collective breaths at the engagement of Australia’s international consultants, they were also tolerated because it was understood they would put us in the milieu of whatever it is that goes on behind closed doors with Fifa Executive Committee members and they could win it for us.
“Funnily enough, the same people who accepted the international consultants unquestioningly, and all that they brought to the Australian bid team, also cried foul about Qatar’s win. They made the somewhat hypocritical assumption that, if we had won, it would have been okay; but for Qatar to win, there must be corruption as a Qatar win in their view — to quote Les Murray — was ‘...so absurd, it was just about unthinkable.’”
There is no shame in losing a World Cup bid but Australia’s abjection was no less than they deserved. Ultimately the FFA betrayed their countrymen who paid for this vainglorious ego trip but weren’t in any way represented by its sales pitch. Australia is, in many respects, the greatest sporting nation on earth. Seldom did the world get to see that reality meaningfully articulated.
I ask Mersiades whether she thinks that, like England, Australia was never going to win, no matter how good a bid proposal it came up with. “The funny thing,” she says, “is that while the process was flawed, maybe the outcome is actually right in terms of what is best for the game — taking the game to different parts of the world, such as Russia and the Middle East. Maybe it’s not a bad decision in the end.”
Yaroslavl, September 2011
Even hours after crashing, the fuselage of the medium-range Yak-42 jet smoulders in the Volga River as rescuers look forlornly amidst the floating wreckage for survivors. They find only dead bodies. The Lokomotiv Yaroslavl ice hockey team which had been travelling for a match in the Belarusian capital Minsk has been wiped out almost in its entirety. Seven crew and 36 members of the team and coaching staff of the three-times Russian champions are dead.
In its technical reports prior to the vote, Fifa had highlighted the transport situation in the Russia as a “high-risk” factor. The size of the country and inadequacy of its roads make air travel a necessity. No matter for the Fifa Exco. Only two days after they vote the Russian bid the winner, a Dagestan Airlines jet was forced to crash land at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport whereupon it broke up on the runway, somehow only killing two of the 169 people on board. As well as the Yaroslavl crash, there were major air accidents in Russia in January and June and a suicide bomb attack at Domodedovo that killed 35 people.
During the bid race, Russia’s infrastructural shortcomings were a constant line of attack from England’s bid team. So too was the state of Russian football which is beset by crowd violence, racism and match fixing. Little has improved with the greatest show on earth now guaranteed. In the past year, Roberto Carlos and Chris Samba have had bananas thrown at them by fans of their own club, Anzhi Makhachkala, while police in Grozny attacked the Krasnodar striker Spartak Gogniev on the pitch.
In bidding to host the 2018 World Cup, Russia touted a different concept to their rivals, seeking virtue in their status as a new World Cup territory and offering an ambitious domestic legacy focused on building new stadiums and extensive football infrastructure for their domestic game. I met its bid chief executive, Alexey Sorokin, a former diplomat, on many occasions through the bid process and he was always open about the challenges facing Russian football. He said that Russia needed the World Cup in order to transform itself.
“Right now we have come to the point where we are impeded by our own infrastructure and it needs to be modernised,” he told me in December 2009. “We think that if we have good stadiums, more people will come and there will be a better climate for matches. Our football will benefit from better stadiums for sure.”
But surely, in a competitive bidding environment, the World Cup should be a reward for excellence, rather than a catalyst to achieve it? Perhaps if Fifa had provided adequate bid guidelines that question may have been resolved before established football powers, such as England and Spain, entered the fray.
Murky rumours and insinuations about the nature of Russia’s win have proliferated since Zurich. Certainly some skulduggery went on to secure the exit of England’s bid in the first round of voting. The Holland-Belgium bid president Ruud Gullit said in Zurich that he was “stunned” when Holland-Belgium got four votes in the first round of voting. “And when England had gone out after the first round, we only got two! One day I will find out which game was being played in Zurich.” But do such shenanigans constitute corruption? Certainly there was something predestined about the 2018 result. Citing the influential Russian political analyst, Stanislav Belkovsky, theGuardian’s Russia correspondent Luke Harding claims that the Kremlin and the Russian bid knew a week before the secret ballot that Russia had already won.
England, for its part, was privately never in doubt about how Russia won. “Off off off record,” one of their PR men texted me hours after the vote, “It must have been paid for.” Some journalists bought this line. The next day, the Sun led with the headline “Fifa Bungs Russia the World Cup.” Yet when there was a parliamentary inquiry session on Fifa the following May, none of the bid’s senior management consented to give evidence in a haven in which they would be protected by parliamentary privilege. Only Lord Triesman — who had left the bid in May — saw fit to answer questions and when he called into question the conduct of some Fifa Exco members, he was derided by some former colleagues who bitched that he knew nothing.
Within weeks of being awarded the tournament, work got under way on preparations for Russia 2018. It had to, for there is much to be done. “It is no secret that we have a lot to construct and infrastructure to be prepare. It is a huge task,” Sorokin said in August 2011. “We are coming to an understanding of the scope of this event. The basic lesson is we need to start right away. We need to start right now in order to be fully prepared for the 2017 Confederations Cup and the World Cup in 2018.”
I have no doubt that the magnificent stadium plans in Russia’s bid proposal will be realised. The World Cup may also change global perceptions of the country, as it altered the image of Germany. It’s the less glamorous things I worry about, like security, accommodation, and yes, airports. But certainly there will be plenty of people wishing to put their name to a great vanity project, like a stadium. Supporting this construction programme is an unparalleled nexus of private wealth. In Zurich, as Vladimir Putin gave a press conference hours after the vote, he effectively told Roman Abramovich, who was sitting with journalists, that he would be picking up the tab for one of the stadiums. Abramovich met the order with a slight shrug of his shoulders and a grin. How could he possibly refuse?
Cologne, October 2011
In the refectory of the German Sports University in Cologne, delegates of the Play the Game Conference are sipping Kölsch beer and swapping stories, conspiracy theories, intelligence and gossip. Run by the Danish Institute of Sport Studies, Play The Game is an initiative to promote democracy, transparency and freedom of expression in international sport. Its biannual conference brings together stakeholders from across the world, a collection of administrators, academics, journalists and a few curious onlookers, too. It is leftish, radical and provocative; a state-sponsored exposition of the ills of modern sport.
It’s the first Play The Game conference since the World Cup bid race drew to its unsatisfactory conclusion and although other sports, such as handball and volleyball, are given a prominence here that would be lacking at other such symposiums, football is for many the main draw. And Fifa, after itsannus horribilis, is the main talking point.
“I think the World Cup bid race made it completely clear that Fifa and — potentially other international sport federations — are completely unprotected to people who want to abuse the wealth of sport, the popularity of sport, the astronomical revenue of sport for their own personal gain,” Jens Sejer Andersen, Play The Game’s international director tells me. “Thanks to investigative journalists, basically from the UK — I’m referring to the Sunday Times, Andrew Jennings and the BBC — it was finally documented in a way that nobody could ignore: that Fifa is based on a system of corruption, not only some greedy individuals here and there, which you will always find in this world. It also became scarily clear that Fifa had no tools to fight this kind of internal corruption and perhaps no interest in really doing it.”
Jennings, one of the most brilliant and forensic sports journalists at work today, is invariably in the thick of the action in Cologne. Now in his late sixties and with a shock of white hair, he maintains an energy and verve that masks his age. His natural ebullience and showmanship also disguise the meticulousness of his work and the hours he spends at his home in Cumbria poring over file after file of leaked documents. He’s refreshingly self-deprecating. “I used to deal with real criminals,” he says. “The Chechen mafia, the mob in Palermo, bent coppers. Fifa are a bunch of clowns by comparison — but they’ve been very effective in concealing their corruption.”
Invariably he’s a controversial figure and has been banned from Fifa press conferences for years. Many despise him, although mostly it seems for doing his job rather too well. When a BBC Panorama investigation he led into the ISL bribery scandal was broadcast on the eve of the World Cup vote, naming the former Fifa president, João Havelange, and the Exco members Ricardo Teixiera and Nicolás Leoz, as taking a $10million bribe booty from the collapsed sports marketing company ISL, England’s World Cup bid team described it as an “embarrassment” to the BBC. Claiming that it merely raked over old allegations, they said it belonged on the History Channel. Fortunately the IOC took the claims rather more seriously and their investigation effectively forced Havelange’s resignation at the age of 95, thus ending one of the longest and most high-profile sports administration careers of all time. Teixiera may well be next, although Fifa — as is their way — dismissed the allegations.
For now a Swiss court protects the other recipients of bribes. A secret document details more than 160 other payments to high-ranking Fifa officials. Fifa has said publicly that it will release the document, while at the same time trying to suppress it legally. Such are its strange ways.
The next day in Cologne, Jennings says that Fifa meets all the definitions of the mafia, with an all-powerful don surrounded by “greedy crooks”, who are protected by a code of “omerta” that silences whistleblowers. Across the conference hall is Fifa’s new director of communications, Walter de Gregorio, a towering Swiss former newspaper editor of Italian stock. As Jennings continues, you can see the anger building on de Gregorio’s face. Taking the microphone he tells Jennings, “The Mafia killed and raped thousands of people. It’s disrespectful to Fifa and to people who lost their lives.” Jennings smiles, and unbuttons his shirt to reveal a blue T-shirt provocatively bearing the slogan, “Fuck Fifa.”
Afterwards, amid a scramble of TV cameras and other journalists, they continue arguing outside the auditorium. It’s pure theatre, not unlike a staged confrontation at a wrestling match. Indeed one wonders why De Gregorio, just a few days into his job, gets so impassioned about something that hasn’t happened on his watch. “Why are Fifa spending money on expensive lawyers to suppress documents?” demands Jennings, waving a paper at De Gregorio, which purportedly lists the suppressed ISL bribe payments. “There is more coming!”
Jennings has been pursuing the ISL bribery case for more than a decade, but the end is almost in sight. A Swiss regional court in the canton of Zug has overturned objections to the release of the files and it will now be referred to the Swiss Supreme Court. 2012 may be the year that the ISL scandal brings the house of Fifa crashing down. Jennings believes the current crises mean the truth about the World Cup host decisions won’t be so long coming out. “Despite Blatter’s attempts to kick allegations into the long grass with his bogus reform process, Fifa is becoming destablilised,” he says. “He’s very isolated and as they turn against each other, everyone looking after themselves, an organisation disintegrates. That’s when the leaking comes. It happened in 2002 and I think it’ll happen again. I don’t think Blatter can win this one.”
The end of the ISL case will mark the end of a long and often lonely struggle to suppress the truth. In Britain, Jennings has largely worked alone on the case and is dismissive of most of his colleagues in the British press. “They have a self-imposed isolation from the story,” he says. “They don’t talk to anyone, they don’t have the sources. They pontificate but they don’t get the documents.”
One of his principal collaborators is the Berlin-based journalist and blogger, Jens Weinreich. Born in East Germany in 1965, Weinreich has been on the case of Fifa and the IOC for almost his entire career. Ostensibly he seems as unlike the hell-raising Jennings as is possible; softly-spoken, baby-faced, disarmingly modest. But they share the same meticulousness in their work and an unstinting commitment to finding the truth and unravelling corruption.
In Cologne he shares a platform with Jennings and speaks on the bid decisions. “The meaning of the word corruption is a wonderful playing field for language artists, but it is very simple,” he explains. “Corruption is the misuse of entrusted power for private gain. That’s it. It is not a rocket science. It should be understandable even for senior FIFA officials, for lawyers, for academics, and journalists who still have problem using the right word – corruption.” But football, he says, is a “parallel society… with its own jurisdictions.” In this strange world “stealing money is not stealing money, crime is not crime, misusing funds is not misusing funds, bribery is not bribery — it is, for instance, development aid, or something like that.”
Based on information provided to him by several whistleblowers, Weinreich alleges that the amount of money paid to World Cup voters was much higher than in any corruption case before, even higher than the amount of money paid in the ISL case. Indeed the cost of one of the 24 votes, claims Weinreich, is higher than anybody had ever imagined. The working thesis based on World Cup scandals is that one vote is allegedly worth up to and over $20million partly paid in euros, partly paid in dollars, partly paid in cash, in most cases paid into secret bank accounts and tax havens, he says.
During my research I found new words, new vocabulary. I give you just a few examples. I have heard a lot about one-day companies, I have heard a lot of one-day accounts. It is more complicated than just to give the money in brown envelopes. What does it mean? The money transferred was arranged in quite a sophisticated way by financial experts. Can we prove it? Not right now.
Weinreich says that the task of finding the truth has been made harder by a big cover up that transcends sport. I’m not only talking about Fifa and its propaganda and its newly hired spin doctors and PR agents; people who are paid well to tell lies and influence journalists, he says. I am talking about private intelligence companies and services in different countries. They are all busy covering up all that has happened the last few years.
He says there is a need for an independent investigation commission, sentiments echoed by Jens Sejer Andersen. For me there is no doubt that Fifa needs an open investigation into many aspects of its governance, the Dane tells me. There should be an independent forensic investigation, with police expertise, into relations between Fifa, its marketing partners, where we would get a public map of the corruption patterns in football. And there should be an independent investigation into how the World Cup of 2018 and 2022 were actually handed out.
There is a need for total transparency, adds Weinreich. At the moment I don’t see any transparency from Fifa. He acknowledges that despite oral testimony, there is almost no proof of corruption so far in the decision to award the World Cup to Russia and Qatar.
But it will change, no worries. It’s just a matter of time.
Planet Fifa, January 2012
Global football finds itself in a severe state of crisis. Fifa continues to be plagued by repeated and unresolved allegations of corruption and mismanagement. The complexion of the Fifa Executive committee has changed inexorably since bid D-day Chung Mong-joon, Mohamed Bin Hammam and Jack Warner have all been ousted, Franz Beckenbauer has gone of his own accord but no one seems to have noticed. Blatter, the man who symbolises the organisation, still sits in his throne, crown slightly tipped after his bruising and flawed election for a fourth term as president. All over the world, Fifa is considered corrupt and, in many eyes, has lost all credibility to lead. Anger at Fifa has united an incongruous cast of global figures. David Cameron has described the organisation as murky. Henry Kissinger said that the cesspit of Fifa politics made him nostalgic for the Middle East. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad described Fifa as dictators and colonialists.
Blatter repeatedly promises to release the ISL documents, but its past the point where anyone believes him any more. While he makes these pledges, Fifa continues to lead the pursuers of truth a merry dance through the Swiss courts. A bribery scandal of staggering proportions has become bogged down in legal minutiae. The story loses a little bit more of its resonance with every month of obfuscation.
Troubling and unanswered questions remain about the serially flawed dual World Cup bid race. This story won’t go away either. Rumours abound of plots to take the 2022 finals away from Qatar. One story is that a crack team of private investigators and lawyers, paid for by a failed bid, are scouring the planet for a smoking gun. Bid insiders report inquiries from investigators whose paymasters remain shrouded in mystery. At least two contacts have received threats, one serious enough to involve a law enforcement agency. It is understood that the national criminal investigative body of one of the defeated bid nations is investigating corrupt football officials. We shall have to wait and see if these relate to the host decisions.
Red herrings abound too and disinformation and smears are tools in the armoury of those who want to discredit the host nations and Fifa. Someone purporting to be a private detective claims to be in the possession of a top-secret 865-page report alleging massive corruption in the 2022 World Cup bid process. The report that for the first time unmasks the powerful figures involved and the subsequent betrayal and backstabbing following the Qatar win is offered to certain journalists for the small sum of â‚¬15,000. A taster sent through reveals it to be a totally unconvincing fake probably authored by the same person who set up a bogus website during the bid process to discredit Qatar and Russia. It is believed that the person behind that site worked with one of the vanquished bids.
But despite the stream of gossip, innuendo and rumours, substantive allegations about the conduct of the two successful bids are still to emerge. My dealings with the Qataris and the Russians have shown the personnel of these teams to be essentially honest. But on Planet Fifa little is ever as it seems and you can’t vouch for anyone when so much business is conducted behind closed doors. The conduct of certain Fifa Exco members has done so much to discredit the entire process that you can’t help but be suspicious.
If the truth ever emerges about what happened in Zurich, Fifa’s ability to deal with serious allegations about the conduct of its elected officials remains deeply questionable. In October 2010, six weeks before the decision on the bid was announced, the Sunday Times exposed two Fifa Exco members, Amos Adamu and Reynald Temarii, asking undercover reporters posing as US bid lobbyists for inducements in exchange for their votes. In Adamu’s case he wanted $800,000 paid directly to his bank account. Another six officials, including the former Exco members Slim Aloulou and Amadou Diakité and a former Fifa general secretary, Michel Zen Ruffinen, were implicated by the investigation, which included allegations about the Qatar bid. Fifa’s ethics committee moved quickly and handed out several bans from football, including Adamu and Temarii, who were excluded from the vote. Yet Fifa’s investigation was cursory at best. The wider issues raised by the Sunday Times were not probed nor was evidence provided by the paper considered by the ethics committee. Neither of the reporters who carried out the sting were ever asked to give evidence. In fact they were roundly condemned by the chairman of the ethics committee, Claudio Sulser, for having the temerity to expose the organisation.
In a chain restaurant near London’s Tower Bridge, I meet Jonathan Calvert, one of the reporters who carried out the sting. The ease with which he infiltrated the hidden world of federation chiefs and Exco members is staggering. In essence his operation required only a company registered at a mailbox address, some business cards, a hidden camera and the whiff of cash to get people falling over themselves to talk. His exposés almost brought the entire bid process with its multi-billion prize at the end crashing down.
Calvert believes that Fifa’s inquiry was completely inadequate and while several officials were banned it ignored serious allegations about cash changing hands ahead of the World Cup vote. I probably wasn’t surprised that Fifa went ahead with the vote, because they would have done so come what may, he tells me. They very quickly investigated our allegations and suspended anybody who was vaguely connected with them. As far as they were concerned that was an end to the matter, but I don’t think it was anything like an end to the matter. In our tape recordings of the various officials that we spoke to there were several allegations that related to specific contests to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups that were there for them to investigate, but they just ignored them.
Fifa, he says, didn’t do anything to investigate the claims that money was changing hands in return for votes. He adds, A normal corporate entity which had such big allegations about its processes would have endeavoured to bring in an outside body to see if there was any truth in them.
I ask him what Fifa should do next and Calvert says that the opportunity is still there for them to reinvestigate how the bids were won. They’ve got a lot of allegations, there were a lot of people they can talk to, they could get an outside body in to investigate. That would at least set people’s minds to rest that they have at least done something about it. On the other hand I don’t think they will, because I don’t think it’s in Sepp Blatter’s interests to do that.