Football: Australia hits back at Fifa over 2022 World Cup graft claims

SYDNEY (AFP) - Football Federation Australia (FFA) hit back on Friday at a Fifa report that alleged taxpayer money went to buy votes during its bid for the 2022 World Cup, insisting it conducted a clean bid campaign.

Australia's top football body rejected assertions of impropriety in canvassing support for its failed bid by Fifa's ethics committee and said it had been "disappointed" by the process.

A Fifa investigation into Qatar's successful bid for the 2022 World Cup cleared the host of any wrongdoing, but accused Australia of breaking ethics rules, trying to buy votes and then attempting a cover-up.

FFA chairman Frank Lowy said his organisation ran a competitive bid in line with the rules, which was monitored throughout by the federal government and other independent bodies.

"FFA did its best to run a competitive and compliant bid and to do it wherever possible hand-in-hand with the Australian government," Lowy said in a statement, adding that Unicef and Fifa were "also involved wherever possible".

"The financial management of the bid funds were routinely reported to government and reviewed by independent external auditors.

"I made it clear to all involved in our bid that we would run a clean campaign and I stressed this objective at every opportunity," he said.

Australia spent almost A$46 million (S$51 million) on its attempt to host the event but received just one vote.

Fifa's report found Australia's team had tried to divert government funds intended for development projects in Africa "towards initiatives in countries with ties to Fifa executive committee members with the intention to advance its bid".

FFA was also accused of making "certain payments" to the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (Concacaf).

"The Australia 2022 bid team appears to have reached the conclusion to provide financial support under the title '(football) development projects' preferably in some areas home to Fifa executive committee members," a summary of the report said.

"The FFA was well aware of the ramifications such a pattern of conduct might imply." Lowy said Australia had funded the football development programmes as it had been encouraged by Fifa to demonstrate Australia's commitment to the game, especially in developing regions.

The FFA was also seeking further information from Fifa's ethics committee over claims Australia had used taxpayer money to buy votes during the bidding process, he added.

"It's clear that this led us to be misled in particular relating to a payment made to Concacaf, which was later revealed to have been misappropriated," he said.

"In hindsight, there are many things we might have done differently and we remain disappointed by our experience of the World Cup bidding process."

The long-awaited probe into the race for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups was thrown into turmoil on Thursday, when its own investigator complained that a summary misrepresented his conclusions.

Football's world governing body had earlier cleared Qatar and Russia of corruption and ruled out a re-vote for the tournaments despite widespread allegations of wrongdoing.

The FFA chief said the Australian bid had cooperated fully with the inquiry run by former US federal prosecutor Michael Garcia and "provided transparency" into the bidding process.

A summary of his report was released this week, but Garcia rejected it as "incomplete and erroneous" and said he planned to appeal.