Controversy appears to have haunted the corridors FIFA ever since the World Cup tournaments of 2018 and 2022 were awarded to Russia and Qatar respectively. Several countries were involved in protracted bids to stage the prestigious football event but accusations of corruption and malpractice have been levelled at various bodies as a result of the eventual decisions. However, during the past few weeks, a lengthy investigation into the validity of some of the bidding practices has provoked yet more discussion into the ethics within FIFA and those organisations bidding to host the World Cup.
In 2012, Michael Garcia was appointed as the lead investigator of the ethics committee of FIFA with prime responsibility to critically analyse the process for awarding both the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. He eventually produced a detailed report but as several interviewees requested anonymity, it could not be fully published in its entirety.
Garcia’s 350 page report was delivered to Hans Joachim Eckert who had been appointed as chairman of the FIFA ethics committee adjudication chamber, and it was his decision not to divulge the contents of the report for legal reasons. He has since produced his own summary report from the original 350 page document which absolves Russia and Qatar from any blame but which Garcia claims is a misinterpretation of his findings. Ekhert has also suggested that some evidence is unreliable which does question the investigative performance of Garcia.
FIFA have since launched a criminal investigation into alleged wrongdoings regarding Swiss bank accounts and as such no further details can be released subject to this now being a police matter and a possible judicial process.
However, several issues have emerged from this sorry tale from which the actions of FIFA have been questioned. For example, why was Garcia not tasked with presenting a summarised version of his report which could be published? Why did several of the interviewees request anonymity with one former employee, Phaedra Al-Majid, now claiming that she lives in fear of threats after divulging information concerning corruption? Is the latter not a case requiring Interpol involvement?
There is also the accusation of England being prominent in using unethical practices in their bid, after co-operating fully with the investigation, while Russia were apparently exonerated by Eckert despite destroying much of the computer evidence relating to their successful award. Were no backup copies of the relevant Russian documents kept by FFIA or the Russian federation as this is standard procedure with any organisation involved in such important matters?
Eckert has claimed that there is insufficient evidence to reopen the bidding process but that his just his version of the original 350 page report and until more details are released to the public, there will always be a suspicion that FIFA is hiding the true facts to avoid further embarrassment within its own organisation.
The World Cup is arguably football’s greatest tournament involving a diverse range of cultures among the watching and paying spectators. However there is a danger of their interests becoming secondary as FIFA attempts to restore its reputation in proving that financial inducements from and to whatever sources are not the key factors in determining a successful bidding outcome.