As Federal Police continue to investigate whether taxpayers’ cash was used illegally to buy votes for Australia’s failed World Cup bid in 2010, retired Football Federation Australia (FFA) chairman Frank Lowy insisted on Tuesday that the $43 million campaign to bring the tournament Down Under was above board.
“We had a clean bid – we bribed nobody,” Mr Lowy told an ABC documentary that aired on Tuesday night.
“I don’t like to think of myself as a patsy, but obviously I was not a winner.”
Police are investigating the legality of a $462,000 payment made by FFA that was eventually transferred to discredited FIFA vice-president Jack Warner in the lead-up to the 2010 bid vote.
Mr Lowy maintains that the payment was intended to fund soccer development in the Americas, but the cash appears to have been intercepted by Mr Warner.
The documentary was produced by Southern Pictures and financed by the taxpayer-funded Screen Australia and the ABC.
Mr Lowy and his family had also featured in a previous Southern Pictures-produced program on the ABC titled Family Confidential.
Family Confidential drew on information from Mr Lowy’s biography, written by Jill Margo.
Ms Margo featured in the World Cup bid documentary, and was an associate producer of the Family Confidential episode.
Played: Inside Australia’s Failed World Cup Bid aired interviews with Mr Lowy and other key figures involved in the star-crossed bid.
These included former FFA chief executive John O’Neill and several of the billionaire’s confidantes from his Westfield shopping centre empire.
It aired a day after a gala dinner was held in Sydney to celebrate Mr Lowy’s tenure at FFA, and the 10-year anniversary of the Socceroos’ qualification for the 2006 World Cup.
Mr Lowy has been replaced as FFA chairman by his son Steven, announced on the same day as the documentary was shown.
John O’Neill: ‘Don’t believe your own bullshit’
Mr O’Neill, who was FFA chief executive until August 2006, provided one of the highlights of the documentary, revealing that he had reservations about the bid and Mr Lowy’s enthusiasm for it.
“The truth is I felt it was too soon,” he said. “If hubris takes over then you’re in trouble in politics.
“Don’t believe your own bullshit, that’s essential … that’s where people need to bring you down to earth – your family, your friends – because around the corner there could be a stumble.”
The documentary relied on sources intimately involved in the bid in the week leading up to the vote in Zurich in November 2010.
These included Westfield’s head of corporate affairs Mark Ryan, and the deputy chairman of FFA and Westfield boards, Brian Schwartz.
Former FFA directors and staff members, who have publicly questioned the strategy and governance of the bid in recent years, were not interviewed.
Ex-Socceroo Jack Reilly was a member of the FFA board until 2013 and since leaving the governing body has been critical of how Mr Lowy managed the World Cup tender.
In an interview with The New Daily in June this year, Mr Reilly said that the FFA board had never received a report on the World Cup bid from Mr Lowy or Mr Schwartz.
Mr Reilly also said that he had warned Mr Lowy and other members of the World Cup Organising Committee against appointing controversial FIFA lobbyist Peter Hargitay as a consultant.
Mr Hargitay and another consultant Fedor Radmann were paid millions of dollars for promoting the Australian bid to FIFA representatives but garnered only one vote.
“I questioned Hargitay’s appointment mercilessly and he was still appointed,” Mr Reilly told The New Daily in June. “It was the organising committee that appointed him.”
Lowy defends Hargitay decision
Mr Lowy defended Mr Hargitay’s appointment, saying that he relied on advice given to him by FIFA president Sepp Blatter.
“I was a newcomer into this business, you know, and maybe I wasn’t that well informed as I would be normally informed in other things that I do,” Mr Lowy said in the documentary.
“I relied on the president of FIFA and the President of the AFC (Asian Football Confederation) to recommend two people.
“They were in charge and I needed to work with them.”
Laurie Critchley, executive producer of the documentary, said the focus of the film was on the events in the week ahead of the Zurich vote, not the board politics of FFA.
Despite that, the documentary spent time covering Mr Lowy’s eradication of the National Soccer League and the NSL, and the creation of FFA and the A-League.
“I didn’t speak to Jack (Reilly) personally but we looked at what he said on the record very closely,” she said.
“Ultimately, those people who appeared in the documentary were those at the centre of the operation when the bid unfolded.”
Bonita Mersiades, who worked on the early stages of the bid but then left because of misgivings about how it was conducted, did not have a new interview done for the program.