No more royal treatment for Fifa officials

LONDON • Fifa has decided that its top officials will no longer be put up at the luxurious Zurich hotel that was the scene of two dawn raids by Swiss police last year.

The five-star Baur au Lac hotel, where suites can cost up to £3,600 (S$6,250) a night, achieved unwanted fame when seven Fifa officials were arrested there in May last year, with two more apprehended in a similar raid in December.

Many of the notorious deals that resulted in Russia and Qatar being voted World Cup hosts for 2018 and 2022, respectively, were also done there.

Members of the Fifa council have received e-mail messages informing them that instead of staying at the Baur au Lac for a meeting next week, they will instead be put up at the nearby Park Hyatt, a cheaper five-star hotel.

The cost-cutting measures are expected to save the world governing body tens of thousands of pounds a year.

The Baur au Lac would not comment on the decision by Fifa, which has had a block booking at the hotel since 2004, saying: "Discretion is one of the hallmarks of the Baur au Lac. Therefore, it is our consistent policy not to make any statements in regard to our esteemed guests."

As part of the move to cut costs, Fifa has even made note of the fact that breakfast at the Baur au Lac is 46 Swiss francs (S$64.50) per person, compared with 35 Swiss francs at the Park Hyatt, which does not enjoy such a desirable location yet still charges more than £2,000 a night for its most expensive suites.

Michel D'Hooghe, Fifa's medical chief, who has stayed at the Baur au Lac for most meetings since he joined the executive committee in 1988, said he could understand the change. "I was surprised when I found out because ever since I joined the exco in 1988 we have stayed at the Baur au Lac," the Belgian told The Times.

"But if this is the new direction and Fifa can save a lot of money, then I am all in favour of that. We must remember that the Fifa council has more members now.

Whereas the Park Hyatt is a modern, unremarkable building, the Baur au Lac, built by the Baur family - who still run it - in 1844, maintains plenty of reminders of its traditions and history.

A white-coated doorman wearing a peak cap guards the forecourt from where sleek, black limousines would whisk Fifa officials to the organisation's headquarters in the hills overlooking the city.

During December, there is always a Christmas tree in the foyer bedecked in dozens of glittering gold baubles, while dinner in the Michelin-starred Pavillon restaurant might challenge even a Fifa member's US$500 (S$686)-a-day expense limit.

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 07, 2016, with the headline 'No more royal treatment for Fifa officials'. Print Edition | Subscribe