Something amiss with Fifa corruption report

Findings of summary asks more questions of governing body’s integrity

Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, Emir of the State of Qatar with Russian deputy prime minster Igor Shuvalov and Fifa president Joseph Blatter (centre) in December 2010 after the announcement of the host nations for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. Photograph: EPA.

Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, Emir of the State of Qatar with Russian deputy prime minster Igor Shuvalov and Fifa president Joseph Blatter (centre) in December 2010 after the announcement of the host nations for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. Photograph: EPA.

 

John Major used to tell a story about walking through the Kremlin with then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin some time in the mid-1990s.

“Boris, in one word, what is the state of Russia?” Major asked.

“Good.”

Major was surprised. At the time, everyone thought Russia was falling to pieces.

“Well then, tell me in more than one word,” he pressed.

“Not good.”

In December 2010, Russia and Qatar were announced as the host countries for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups respectively. Less than two years later persistent corruption allegations eventually forced Fifa to appoint an American attorney, Michael Garcia, to lead an investigation into the bid process. Garcia began the task of unravelling what had happened.

Yesterday morning at 0900 GMT, Fifa’s website published a 42-page summary of Garcia’s 430-page report. The summary had been produced by German judge Hans-Joachim Eckert in his capacity as the chair of the adjudicatory chamber of the Fifa ethics committee. Eckert announced that the two-year investigation had been closed. Qatar and Russia had no case to answer.

Within hours, it transpired that Eckert might have over-condensed Garcia’s findings in the style Major would have recognised from his conversations with Yeltsin.

In an extraordinary development, Garcia issued a statement declaring that he did not recognise his own report in the summary posted by the German judge.

Erroneous

Since Fifa had been embarrassed into commissioning the investigation by a series of scandalous exposes in London’s Sunday Times, you had to smile at Eckert’s apparent revelation that the English themselves were among the worst offenders when it came to flirting with impropriety.

Eckert claims that Garcia found the English FA’s desperation to secure votes for their 2018 bid meant they were all too willing to submit to outrageous demands from the power-broker of Caribbean football, Jack Warner.

In this account, the English were enablers who pandered to Warner’s brattish behaviour, eagerly seeking to facilitate his attempted corruption if it meant securing his support, and thus themselves almost guilty of dragging the whole bidding process into disrepute.

Almost, because in this version of what happened, nobody quite strayed over the line.

Most of the scandal surrounding the Qatari bid had emanated from the figure of Mohamed bin Hammam, the Qatari who was the president of the Asian Football Confederation back in 2010, when Qatar won the right to host the World Cup.

Massive evidence

As for the Russians, it seems they did everything in their power to help Garcia’s investigation. Unfortunately, it turned out that the leased computers on which the Russian bid team had worked had since been returned to their owner – and destroyed. Not only that, but the Gmail accounts they had used for their campaign email were somehow no longer accessible.

The summary report concludes that “the evidence available [was] not sufficient to support any findings of misconduct by the Russia 2018 bid team”. You suspect that if Yeltsin had been asked to describe that conclusion in one word, he might have said: “Surprising.”

Garcia’s denunciation of Eckert’s summary means, of course, that Fifa will now come under renewed pressure to publish the full report with minimal redactions.

Fifa has argued that this is impossible. Last month, Eckert explained: “Publishing the report in full would actually put the Fifa ethics committee and Fifa itself in a very difficult situation legally,” adding: “full publication of the report would in all likelihood not be possible.”

The price of continuing to conceal what is in that report is further damage to the image of football’s governing body.

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