By Jamie Thomas
As I’m sure you’ve heard, FIFA released their long-awaited report investigating the legality of the bidding process for the 2018/2022 World Cups and, to say the least, it has caused quite a stir.
The report cleared Qatar and Russia – although admitting there might have been attempts to bend the rules – of any wrongdoing and in a shocking turn of events, pointed the finger firmly at England, the USA and Australia with regards to their conduct in the voting process.
It is fair to say that a number of high-profile figures involved in English football, whether in a journalistic capacity or within the game itself, are flabbergasted.
Read on to find our analysis of the 42-page report!
FIFA’s Investigative Powers
Before looking at the report and its reliability it’s worth outlining that FIFA themselves do mention frequently that there is a limit to the investigative work they can do.
They also acknowledge they haven’t taken into account the information of whistle-blowers, particularly in the cases of Australia and Qatar (See section 6.6.1 and 6.6.7 of the report).
The potential deficiencies in FIFA’s authority, with regards to the corruption being alleged is visible almost immediately – chillingly underlined by a sentence they end the report with: “The main challenge with regard to corruption is proving it.” (8.3)
The report also acknowledges indications of collusion in the voting process and that “vote trading to a limited extent” might have “taken place in the context of the vote” but that they haven’t established “conclusive evidence in this regard.” (7.1)
FIFA reiterate their belief that they designed a bidding process “which was well-thought, robust and professional” however notes that “FIFA can and must improve the process for future World Cups.” (7.2.1)
The Case of Qatar and Russia
Early on in their summary of Qatar’s bid, FIFA note a “lack of transparency” between the Qatar bid team and two individuals who acted on their behalf, and that binding these two individuals to “FIFA’s Ethics Rules poses certain legal challenges…” (6.6.2) – potentially clearing the bid team of any wrongdoing if the two individuals were allegedly ‘pulling strings’ without the bid team’s knowledge.
The report also notes that Mr Bin Hammam did support Qatar’s bid and his actions did influence the voting process by “…eliminating votes for Australia and England.” However they then go on to note that the difference it made wasn’t significant (6.6.6).
FIFA also acknowledge the transaction of $1.2m between Jack Warner and Mr Bin Hammam “breached FIFA Code of Ethics … however that misconduct does not appear to relate” to the vote itself (6.6.6).
In the case of Russia, FIFA acknowledge that there were indications of a “vote trading agreement” between Russia and Japan although no supporting evidence was obtained that “corroborated such indications.” (6.7.2)
A most interesting point though, was that “the Russia 2018 Bid Committee made only a limited amount of documents available for review” due to the fact that computers used by the bid team had been “leased and then returned to their owner after the bidding process.” (6.7.1)
The FA, US Soccer, Football Federation Australia under scrutiny?
I think what has gone slightly under the radar so far is that this report surely means the voting process will not be reopened regarding the 2018 and 2022 bids.
Perhaps it has gone under the radar because it isn’t that surprising – we all expected that outcome. What many perhaps didn’t expect was that the aforementioned football associations would come out of this report on the defensive.
It is worth noting before drilling down into the details that FIFA point out England’s conduct in the voting process was not “suited to compromise the integrity of the bidding process as a whole.”
The report in particular notes that the England 2018 bid held a gala dinner in Trinidad in 2010 “once again in an effort to curry favour with Jack Warner” (6.3.3) who was a key figure in the bidding process.
They go on to note that “there are certain indications of potentially problematic conduct of specific individuals in the light of relevant FIFA Ethics Rules” and astonishingly, inform the FA that “…the Investigatory Chamber will take appropriate steps if it deems such measures appropriate and feasible.” (6.3.6)
In the case of US Soccer, the report lists a number of alleged wrongdoings with regards to the USA 2022 bid such as influencing the Asian Football Confederation by spreading rumours of a potential bid by China for 2026 but note that the committee didn’t “have at its disposal any evidence corroborating this.” (6.8.2)
The report also reflects negatively on Australia who the report claims “…did undertake specific efforts to gain the support of a particular then FIFA Executive Committee member and that there may have been efforts to conceal certain relationships.” (6.1.2)
42 Pages of Valuable Information then?
There are a few key things that keep popping up in the findings that are disturbing. The biggest being that almost every concluding paragraph for the bids is mostly identical to the last.
Every single concluding paragraph, whether it be Qatar’s, Russia’s, USA’s, England’s or Australia’s – concludes with something a lot like this sentence:
‘The Chairman … reaches the conclusion that … the circumstances of (insert country name here)’s bid were not suited to compromise the integrity of the bidding process as a whole.’
That isn’t the exact quote but the point is; if that is the case, and it is written that way for every single country under investigation in identical wording, then why are there 15 pages of writing on where these countries allegedly skirted the rules?
If there are 15 pages written on England holding dinners for someone and the USA allegedly spreading rumours and the Australians allegedly hiding key relationships, never mind the two-and-a-half pages on Mr Bin Hammam’s alleged misdemeanours, then why does this not damage the integrity of the process?
Surely if it didn’t damage the integrity of the process then there wouldn’t be 15 pages of things to say on how these countries allegedly skirted the rules, right?
To add to that, one of the chief investigators behind the report says the findings are wrong and that he intends to appeal to the FIFA Appeal Committee.
Clearly then, something doesn’t add up. You can find the report for yourself here. I strongly encourage everyone who has an interest in football – or even just general transparency – to have a look.
One thing is for sure – the voting process might not be opening again but this story has a long way to run yet! Stick with us here to see how it all unfolds.