Football: No smoking gun in Fifa docs

The logo of Fifa through a net at the world football's governing body headquarters in Zurich.
The logo of Fifa through a net at the world football's governing body headquarters in Zurich. PHOTO: AFP

Garcia report offers details of corruption but nothing to worry 2018 and 2022 WC hosts

LAUSANNE • The prospects of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments being hosted by Russia and Qatar respectively have been strengthened after Fifa published the report by independent ethics investigator Michael Garcia into the 2010 voting process.

The release of the 430-page document compiled by Garcia came with its own drama, however, after Fifa learnt that a copy of the report was leaked to Bild and that the German newspaper was planning to release key details on a rolling basis.

In a statement on Tuesday accompanying the release of the documents, Fifa cited the newspaper's plan, while explaining why world football's governing body did not release the report in 2014 when it was completed.

"The report's release had been called for on numerous occasions by Fifa president Gianni Infantino in the past and also supported by the Fifa Council since its meeting in Mexico City in May 2016," said Fifa, which awarded the 2018 and 2022 World Cups while disgraced former Fifa president Sepp Blatter still reigned. "Despite these regular requests, it is worth noting that the former chairpersons of the Ethics Committee, Cornel Borbely and Hans-Joachim Eckert, had always refused to publish it."

Fifa went on to say that its ethics committee planned to discuss the publication of the report next week. But "as the document has been illegally leaked to a German newspaper, the new (ethics committee) chairpersons have requested the immediate publication of the full report in order to avoid the dissemination of any misleading information".

The release of the full report comes three years after Borbely and Eckert, both of whom were eventually ousted from their roles on the ethics committee, withheld the report from public view and instead released a 42-page summary of the report. Garcia declared the summary "incomplete and erroneous" after it cleared Russia and Qatar of anything so egregious that it would result in their being unable to host the World Cup.

While it did not paint a very glittering picture of Fifa's inner workings, it apparently did not go far enough to detail some of the unethical behaviour that Garcia uncovered, causing Garcia to resign in protest.

Unlike the sanitised summary, which hinged on general descriptions, the full report details several instances of corruption within Fifa's highest ranks, including members of its executive committee, some of whom tried to shut down the investigation. Among the most vocal was Angel Maria Villar Llona, who, according to Garcia, "was not willing to discuss the facts and circumstances of the case".

The report also details a previously reported money wire of US$2 million (S$2.77 million) to the account of a Fifa executive's 10-year-old daughter allegedly from Sandro Rossell, who was believed to be working on behalf of Qatar's 2022 bid. According to ESPN FC, reports of the payment to the daughter of former Fifa official Ricardo Teixeira first surfaced in Brazilian media around 2014.

In Garcia's report, Qatar 2022 consultant Andreas Bleicher admitted to having knowledge that "the payment occurred", but insisted it was unrelated to the Middle Eastern country's World Cup bid, and had to do with "selling a real estate property in Brazil".

What the Garcia report did not have was any hard evidence that the committees for Russia and Qatar had used bribes to secure the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, any smoking gun that might have compelled Fifa to consider moving either of the events or reopening the bidding for them.

Qatar's 2022 World Cup organisers welcomed the publication of the report.

"Although we question the timing of the leak, we welcome the publication of the Garcia report," Qatar's Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy said in a statement. "We believe that the conclusions drawn represent a vindication of the integrity of our bid."

THE GUARDIAN, WASHINGTON POST, NYTIMES, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 29, 2017, with the headline 'No smoking gun in Fifa docs'. Print Edition | Subscribe