Sport Football Rotten to the core: why did we deal with FIFA?

Rotten to the core: why did we deal with FIFA?

Sepp Blatter and Mohammed bin Hammam.
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If there’s one organisation that’s more dysfunctional than Essendon, it’s FIFA.

The disagreement between FIFA’s ethics committee member Hans-Joachim Eckert and the US attorney Michael Garcia into what occurred during the bidding processes for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups is farcical.

Garcia’s 18-month investigation into bribery and vote-rigging allegations resulted in a 430-page report. Eckert whittled it down to a 42-page summary that cleared Russia and Qatar of any wrongdoing.

Though there were some rule breaches, Eckert suggested “the effects of these occurrences on the bidding process as a whole were far from reaching any threshold that would require returning to the bidding process, let alone reopening it”.

Eckert’s precis failed to impress Garcia. A major sticking point seemed the role of the disgraced former Qatari head of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), Mohammed bin Hammam.

In his summary, Eckert found that bin Hammam had made illicit payments to delegates in his bid to unseat Sepp Blatter as FIFA president. These payments, however, were quite separate from the bidding process and so had not corrupted it.

FIFA ethics committee chief Hans-Joachim Eckert is refusing to release the full report. Photo: Getty
FIFA ethics committee chief Hans-Joachim Eckert is refusing to release the full report. Photo: Getty

Garcia claims that Eckert’s report contained “numerous materially incomplete and erroneous representations of the facts and conclusions”.

Garcia’s report has not been published, but his claims have done little to enhance FIFA’s already well-trashed reputation for probity and transparency.

The president of the German Federation, Reinhard Rauball, was so disturbed by Garcia’s outburst he suggested UEFA may quit FIFA if the report is not published in full. It’s the only way FIFA can restore its lost credibility, Rauball added.

The Qataris may have splurged buckets of money to secure the Cup, but they have always claimed their bid was above board.

The now discredited bin Hammam was not involved – supposedly. As head of the AFC he had a clear conflict of interest and was meant to keep his distance.

But this seems not to have been the case. As London’s Sunday Times has just revealed, bin Hammam was allegedly engineering the bidding process in contravention of FIFA’s rules. As he told a member of the English bid team, his job was to win the Cup for Qatar.

Bin Hammam did it with staggering largesse.

Michael Garcia is less than impressed that his report has been suppressed. Photo: Getty
Michael Garcia is less than impressed that his report has been suppressed. Photo: Getty

According to London’s Telegraph, a Qatari company owned by bin Hammam paid Trinidad and Tobago’s Jack Warner $1.2 million in 2011. Warner’s two sons also received around $US500,000 each. It’s not clear what the payments were for, but they were issued just after Qatar was awarded the Cup.

Allegations of corruption have hung over Warner for years, and the FBI is investigating this current crop.

Bin Hammam also arranged all-expenses paid flights to Doha for FIFA ‘heavies’ – from Sepp Blatter to the ‘Kaiser’ Franz Beckenbauer – to meet the Qatari bid team.

Also on the bin Hammam gravy train was the head of the Brazilian Football Confederation, Ricardo Teixeira. With his father-in-law, Joao Havelange, Teixeira allegedly accepted $US41 million in bribes between 1992 and 2006 from the now defunct sports management outfit, ISL, for exclusive marketing rights to the World Cup.

Blatter knew about the bribes but chose to do nothing, which is not surprising.

Havelange had preceded Blatter as FIFA president. Indeed, Blatter took over the presidency with Havelange’s blessing. They have similar management styles, both preferring to turn a blind eye to FIFA’s shadier side.

Jack Warner from Trinidad was the beneficiary of Bin Hamman's largesse. Photo: Getty
Jack Warner from Trinidad was the beneficiary of Bin Hamman’s largesse. Photo: Getty

In 2002, Blatter saw off his biggest challenge. FIFA general-secretary Michel Zen-Ruffinen accused Blatter of financial mismanagement. The allegations stemmed again from investigations into the collapse of ISL.

The report alleged the collapse has cost FIFA $US100 million and that Blatter had bribed third-parties to ensure his re-election as FIFA president. The allegations were withdrawn before the matter headed into the Swiss courts.

But they resurfaced in 2012 with a Council of Europe report into bribery allegations associated with the ISL collapse. The Council found that bribes totalling around $US16 million had been made by ISL to FIFA delegates in an attempt to influence the allocation of World Cup television rights.

Blatter’s fingerprints were not on any of the documents. But the Council did note: “[s]ince FIFA was aware of significant sums paid to certain of its officials, it is difficult to imagine that Mr. Blatter would not have known about this.”

At 78, Blatter’s days as FIFA head seem far from numbered. The mud associated with FIFA under his presidency simply hasn’t stuck. In 2011 he saw off bin Hammam’s challenge, and his only real credible replacement, Frenchman Michel Platini, has refused to run against him in 2015.

Change is urgently needed as FIFA has become a global laughing-stock under Blatter.

FFA chief Frank Lowy with Bin Hamman in 2011. Photo: Getty
FFA chief Frank Lowy with Bin Hamman in 2011. Photo: Getty

The one-time president of the World Society for Friends of Suspenders (Blatter’s apparently no fan of pantyhose) has dated views on race and gender. If Blatter had his way women would be playing football in “tight shorts” and plunging necklines.

But when it suits, Blatter’s prepared to take the moral high ground. He’s already asked gays intending to go to Qatar for the 2022 Cup to “refrain from any sexual activities” rather than contravene local laws which forbid homosexuality

Blatter can’t be blamed solely for the decision to award the Cup to Qatar. It was made by FIFA’s 22-man executive. But even this vote was plagued by corruption. Twenty-four members of the executive should have voted, but two were disqualified because of vote selling allegations.

From a business perspective the Cup in the Gulf makes good financial and political sense.

The West often forgets that Qatar and the UAE are major players in global football. Qatari concerns own one of the world’s major football brands, Paris-St Germain, and sponsor another, Barcelona.

Qatar has experience in staging mega sporting events. Doha hosted the 2006 Asian Games and was an early bidder for the 2016 Olympics.

Overseas workers are treated as virtual slaves in the UAE. Photo: Getty
Overseas workers are ill-treated in Qatar. Photo: Getty

Money’s not a problem when it comes to sport in the Gulf. The region hosts the world’s richest horse race, the Dubai Gold Cup, and major tennis and golf tournaments, amongst numerous other events.

Money has also talked in FIFA and so it’s no surprise the Cup was awarded to Qatar.

So powerful is Gulf money these days that FIFA is contemplating disrupting Europe’s major domestic football competitions to stage the Cup in the cooler months of November and December.

But money can’t mask the abuses of migrant labour from Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh working on Qatari World Cup building sites.

Over the next eight years this – and not the heat – will be the real bugbear for FIFA and Qatar. The International Trade Union Confederation alleges that migrant workers’ passports have been confiscated by their employers. Furthermore, workers frequently go unpaid and are subjected to intolerable conditions.

Recently The Guardian obtained documents from the Nepalese embassy in Doha which allege that 44 workers died on building sites between June and August this year. The main causes of death were heat-related “heart attacks, heart failure and workplace accidents”.

These deaths are the hidden cost of the 2022 World Cup.

Given these abuses and FIFA’s history of shonky business practices, it’s a bit rich to accuse the Australian and English bids of shady dealings.

They can be accused of naivety, however.

Why Frank Lowy, the FFA and the then Labor government decided to splurge $44 million on securing the Cup beggars belief.

For starters, there was too much money flowing out of resource-rich Russia and the Gulf to even get to first-base. Then the Australians were up against bin Hamman’s cashed-up Qatar.

The Australians were lucky to get a vote at all. But we did pick up the door-prize – the Asian Cup. There were no other takers!

Garcia has done us all a favour. In challenging FIFA’s interpretation of his report, he’s reminded us of the shonky practices and cover-ups that have gone on under both Blatter and Havelange’s presidencies.

But the FFA and the English FA shouldn’t whinge. FIFA’s history should have warned them against doing business with Blatter’s mob until they clean up their act.

With the suspender-loving Blatter still in the chair, that seems a long way off.

Dr Tom Heenan teaches sport at Monash University.

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