Even by Fifa standards, it was a day of dramatic accusations and recriminations.
More evidence of strange goings-on that emerged on Thursday in a report on the investigation into the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups has once again left world football’s governing body struggling to contain criticism over its handling of allegations of impropriety.
Controversy over the award of the tournaments has dogged Fifa since a 22-man executive committee voted nearly four years ago for the tournaments to be staged in Russia and Qatar respectively.
It was revealed on Thursday that Russia could not track down material relating to its bid. Computers had been destroyed, while emails could not be recovered. England, Australia and South Korea displayed a carefree attitude towards supporting football development projects around the world with cash, if they thought it would help their respective bids – although Fifa rules preventing this could have been clearer.
Other parts of the report were familiar. The behaviour of disgraced former Fifa executive committee members Jack Warner and Mohamed Bin Hammam, both previously accused of corrupt behaviour, were well covered in the 42-page document. But the problem for Fifa is that the report it published does not tell the full story.
What it published was authored by Hans-Joachim Eckert, a German prosecutor who heads one half of Fifa’s ethics committee – the part that adjudicates on improper behaviour. But Mr Eckert’s report was a precis of a much largerone written by Michael J Garcia, a US lawyer who chairs the other half of the committee, the part which investigates improper conduct.
Mr Eckert has had sight of the Garcia report since September, when it was first sent to Fifa. While the German prosecutor insists that football’s governing body should not publish the longer report for legal reasons, Mr Garcia has maintained that it should be published.
So it was, perhaps, inevitable that Fifa’s decision to press on with the Eckert version of events would elicit a furious response from Mr Garcia, who accused his German counterpart of “numerous materially incomplete and erroneous representations of the facts and conclusions” that the American had reached.
The two-chamber ethics committee structure was devised by Mark Pieth, a Swiss professor appointed by Fifa to advise on reform, and adopted by the governing body two years ago with the aim of increasing transparency and probity – both woefully lacking in the organisation.
According to Prof Pieth, the problem is not process but culture. “Fifa is so bad it can only be changed through a culture of openness and transparency,” he said.
“Publication of the Garcia report would have been a great moment to show that openness. It was a missed opportunity.”
What does Fifa have to hide? Prof Pieth suspects that both lawyers probably came to the same conclusion on the central controversy that has pursued Fifa – whether Qatar used underhand means to win the 2022 World Cup vote. This charge is furiously denied by Qatar.
Prof Pieth believes they both concluded that definitive evidence was simply not there.
“What could have helped is to publish both reports,” he said. “There will be some discrepancies between them but not on the major point.”
Resistance to publishing the Garcia report is likely to have more to do with the culture of secrecy that continues to pervade Fifa’s Zurich headquarters, despite Sepp Blatter, the group’s president, recently donning a cloak of reformism.
A Fifa press release published on Thursday after the Eckert report claimed, rather prematurely, that “a degree of closure has been reached”.
It continued: “Fifa looks forward to continuing the preparations for Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022, which are already well under way.”
Fifa said later that while it noted Mr Garcia’s broadside, it had “not been officially notified” of his statement.
After four years firefighting, it is unsurprising that Fifa has been keen to move on. A surprisingly successful World Cup in Brazil and Mr Blatter’s seemingly unstoppable march to re-election next year for a fifth term had also seemed to give the governing body some favourable headwind.
But how it acts next is critical. Sponsors, worried about Fifa’s negative image, have already said they were expecting the organisation to investigate the allegations appropriately – some have even hinted that the issue is so serious it could force them to end their relationship with the governing body.
Reports of a possible probe by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation and the presence of Mr Garcia in the background leaves uncomfortable reminders that Fifa has far from buried its troublesome past.
Case closed after four years of corruption claims
November 2010 Two Fifa executive committee members suspended for offering to sell their World Cup bid votes to undercover reporters
December 2010 Fifa awards 2018 World Cup to Russia and 2022 tournament to Qatar
May 2011 FA chairman Lord Triesman alleges in UK parliament four exco members asked for favours in return for supporting England’s bid. They are later cleared
May 2011 Mohamed Bin Hammam withdraws his bid to win Fifa presidency over allegations he paid Caribbean delegates in return for supporting his campaign. He is eventually banned from football for life
May 2011Fifa vice-president Jack Warner releases email from Fifa general secretary Jerome Valcke which said Qatar had “bought” the World cup. Valcke says he was misinterpreted
June 2011 Sepp Blatter wins fourth presidential term and says Fifa needs to reform
March 2012 Blatter sets up two-chamber ethics committee to investigate corruption. US lawyer Michael J Garcia appointed chairman of investigatory chamber, with a remit to look at 2018/2022 bidding process
March 2013 Independent advisers express surprise Fifa fails to accept reform recommendation
June 2014 Garcia tells Fifa Congress in Sao Paulo he will look at fresh information about the bidding process involving Qatar
September 2014 Garcia files his report. Hans Joachim-Eckert, chairman of Fifa adjudicatory chamber of ethics committee, says the Garcia report cannot be published in full for legal reasons. Garcia complains, saying his report should be made public
November 2014 Eckert publishes 42-page summary of what is in the Garcia report, saying there is insufficient evidence to re-open bidding process. Fifa says the controversy in closed. Garcia says he has been misrepresented
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