New FIFA committee expected to probe Qatar World Cup bid irregularities

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FIFA chief Sepp Blatter announcing the winner of 2018 FIFA World Cup bid in Zurich, Switzerland, in December, 2010. Photo - Reuters

FIFA is forming an independent committee that will most probably examine the World Cup bids made by Russia and Qatar to host the prestigious events in 2018 and 2022 respectively, a former British attorney general advising FIFA on reform disclosed.

The world football governing body confronted major controversy when several members of its decision-making board were accused of wrongdoing and exposed by undercover journalists. Many critics blame FIFA’s weak internal governance and lax procedures that led to corruption and malpractices while handling the bids to stage the 2018 and 2022 editions of the $5bn World Cup.

“It does need to be looked into,” Peter Goldsmith, a partner at law firm Debevoise & Plimpton, said in an interview with Bloomberg.

“The point is if you have a proper investigative body with a professional, independent head, that person could look at these things. That’s what I expect to happen.”

Swiss law professor Mark Pieth is heading the 13-person panel of which Goldsmith is a member.

“Put someone in place who has an international reputation to lose if people can see they’re not doing their job,” Goldsmith said.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter has been under pressure to modernise the 108-year-old organisation.

Russia beat England as well as joint bids from Spain/Portugal and Belgium/the Netherlands to host football’s top championship in 2018.

Qatar, a tiny desert nation of around 1.7 million people, was granted the rights to host the 2022 World Cup, ahead of bids from the US, Australia, South Korea and Japan to host the prestigious tournament.

The decisions came six months before Blatter was re-elected to a fourth, four-year term after Qatar’s Mohammed Bin Hammam, his only challenger, withdrew a day before being investigated for allegedly bribing Caribbean voters.

FIFA agreed to some changes at its annual congress in Budapest last week, including the appointment of the first woman on its board and establishing investigative and adjudicatory bodies to tackle wrongdoing.

However, the world body deferred several issues like the introduction of term limits and integrity checks for officials, publication of executive pay and the creation of a whistle-blower hot line to next year’s congress in Mauritius.

FIFA was also unable to name the first independent chairmen of its two new ethics bodies because one of the nominees chosen by Pieth’s group was ill. The announcement will be made in July when the board next meets.

Money-making Machine

FIFA said it made nearly $1bn in sales last year and has the same amount in its cash reserves, while television and marketing deals for the 2018 World Cup already amount to $2.3bn. Many of Blatter’s critics have accused the Zurich-based body of hoarding cash and not using it for football’s development across the globe.

“We met with Sepp Blatter, saying to him: ‘Look you’ve done fantastically financially, it’s a fantastically successful organisation financially but is that what you want your legacy to be, just to make more money?,’” Goldsmith said. “‘You leave behind all this scandal.’”

“If FIFA doesn’t do this now I cannot believe there will not be huge pressure for it to be done from outside,” he said. “That will be much worse from FIFA’s point of view.”

Blatter, 76, has agreed to step down at the end of his current 4-year term.

Goldsmith called for countries to demand better oversight from the Swiss government on organisations located in the country and suggested UK and US anti-corruption legislation could be brought to scrutinise the world football body.

The British lawyer said he expected investigations into allegations stretching back as long as a decade ago.

“Everyone knows there’s been corruption inside FIFA,” he said. “There’s a statute of limitations of 10 years for most things but otherwise there shouldn’t be any impediment for a new investigative body to look at things which happened in the past and properly get into them.”

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