Exclusive - FIFA World Cup Bidding Investigation "Absolutely Bizarre"

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US lawyer Michael Garcia heads FIFA's investigatory ethics arm (Getty)
(WFI) A former executive on England’s failed World Cup bid tells INSIDER it is unclear what FIFA’s ethics chief Michael Garcia is trying to achieve on a tour of the nine bidding nations for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments.

The US lawyer’s global mission, beginning next week, was revealed in France Football magazine today, as part of a series of investigative reports into FIFA’s awarding of 2022 hosting rights to Qatar. Garcia heads the investigatory arm of FIFA’s two-chamber ethics panel.

The ex-bid official told INSIDER he had received a letter via The Football Association last Friday, which alerted him to Garcia’s probe into the shambolic World Cup bidding process that was riddled with corruption allegations. Russia and Qatar were awarded the 2018 and 2022 competitions in December 2010.

“The amount of detail in the letter] is incredibly lacking… there’s no scope, no remit. It is hard to know what he is trying to achieve,” the bid told INSIDER.

The letter of only a few paragraphs, which has been sent to the other eight bidding countries – Belgium/the Netherlands, Portugal/Spain were the other losing bids for 2018; Australia, Japan, South Korea and the USA missed out on 2022 – does not mention the bribery allegations that tarnished the World Cup bidding process or explain what evidence Garcia is seeking.

The former England bid official described the letter as “absolutely bizarre”, labeling it “classic FIFA”.

“Why would they not just try to explain,” he said.

Some might argue that the probe is creating a smokescreen for a possible witchhunt against Qatar. The oil-rich nation’s bid was embroiled in bribery allegations, all of which were strongly denied and have never been proven by FIFA’s ethics committee.

“If the ultimate aim was to clean up the bidding process for the future so any chances of malpractice are removed then that would be a worthy objective,” he added.

Former England 2018 bid chairman David Triesman, CEO Andy Anson and Jane Bateman, the bid’s director of campaign operations, are among those Garcia hopes to speak with in London on Oct. 9, the first stop on his global tour.

INSIDER is told that the nine bidding nations are obliged to assist in Garcia’s investigation, according to FIFA’s bidding rules. The FA’s general secretary Alex Horne is expected to be one of those meeting Garcia next Wednesday, although he was not part of the bid.

U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati, who led his country’s World Cup bid and now sits on the FIFA ExCo, and Football Federation Australia chief Frank Lowy have both
Michael Garcia and Hans-Joachim Eckert, chairman of the adjudicatory chamber of the FIFA Ethics Committee, were appointed in July 2012 (Getty)
blasted the 2022 World Cup bidding process in recent months. They will be given the chance to air their grievances face to face with Garcia in the coming weeks.

Garcia's Motives Unclear

But as FIFA’s executive committee meets later this week to discuss a possible switch of the Qatar World Cup from summer to winter, Garcia’s motives for his globe-trotting mission remain unclear. With a revote on the 2022 World Cup out of the question, his quest to collect any fresh evidence about the botched 2018/2022 process appears only to fulfill his commitment to FIFA that he would look into the issue.

He promised to do so at the press conference that followed the 63rd FIFA Congress in Mauritius in May.

Referring specifically to media speculation concerning the bidding process that led to Qatar securing the 2022 FIFA showpiece, he said. "I've gone on the record before to say that I was referred a story by a London (news)paper. I will be looking at some of the processes, but if there is any information out there, now is the time to give it to me.

"In the course of any investigation, I am bound by confidentiality. I clearly cannot divulge information from an ongoing proceeding, as I also want to protect anyone who would wish to come to me in good faith."

In July 2012, Garcia told a press conference at FIFA headquarters in Zurich that he welcomed any “credible complaint of corruption” from whistleblowers and the public.

“The scope of any investigation depends on facts and circumstances,” Garcia said. "There is no bright line in terms of past and future. If there is conduct in the past that warrants an investigations, I will do that."

At the time, Garcia said that one of his biggest challenges, as with any investigatory body, was "about getting access to information". "It’s about your ability to get cooperation, documents and witness interviews," he said in an interview published on FIFA.com.

Meanwhile, the UK’s sports minister Hugh Robertson yesterday labeled the controversy surrounding the staging of the 2022 World Cup in the desert nation’s sizzling summer heat as "a mess of Fifa's own making".

“I don't blame the Qataris at all – they wanted the World Cup and every country is entitled to have that ambition and they entered the bidding competition in the way suggested by Fifa. I entirely blame Fifa," he was quoted by the Press Association.

By INSIDER editor Mark Bisson

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