Fifa's 'chief ethics investigator' the America lawyer Michael Garcia will file the report next week of his investigation into allegations of corruption linked to the bidding process for the right to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. This is what I believe he will say: That there may have been suspicious payments made to individuals around the bidding process, but that there is no evidence that these were solicited in return for votes or support. He will probably also say that whilst certain named individuals may have been responsible for making such payments, there is no direct proof that they were doing so on the instruction of the nations who were bidding to host the World Cup [which of course begs the questions as to why they were doing it].
Garcia may also raise a lawyerly eyebrow in the direction of a few named individuals, like Mohammed Bin Hammam, and suggest that their conduct during the bidding process could be questioned. However, as Bin Hammam has already been banned from any role in football by Fifa because of previous allegations that he attempted to buy votes in the Fifa Presidential elections, this will make no difference at all. Sepp Blatter will then be free to congratulate Fifa on its marvelous transparency and integrity. He will praise Michael Garcia and the Fifa Ethics Committee on a job well done, and then carry on with the completely insane idea of playing the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Fifa is not above the law; it only looks like that. The FBI is conducting its own investigation into whether corrupt payments were made during the World Cup bids using computer servers based in the USA. They are free to bring forward their own prosecutions, like any other law enforcement agency if they believe that there is clear evidence of wrong doing within their jurisdiction. However, the only real way to hurt Fifa and to make it change its ways is through its finances.
Money makes the football world go around. Sadly, if you look at what football has become, it is a media content business attached to a sporting competition. The power, at a certain level, of leading officials in football is their ability to control the growing amount of money that comes into the game from around the world through TV broadcasting rights, sponsorship and merchandising. That is why in England, for example it is the Premier League that is the most powerful organisation. It controls the money that is distributed to the top clubs through broadcasting rights and through this also funds much of the investment into the grassroots game. When you look at the allegations of corruption made against Fifa officials they are often linked to broadcasting and marketing rights, and the distribution of football development money around the world. This is their currency.
The most telling aspect of the reaction to the reports in the Sunday Times newspaper about corruption linked to the World Cup bidding process is that some of Fifa's major sponsors have started to voice their concerns. They are doing so because they don't want their corporate reputations to be damaged by their association with Fifa. Only external pressure will bring about change within that organisation; pressure from sponsors, football fans, the media and national governments using the powers within their own jurisdiction to expose wrong doing.
The reform that is needed is easy to deliver. It just requires greater transparency on the financial interests within the game of the leading Fifa officials and tighter rules around accepting gifts. The International Olympic Committee has embraced such reform and FIFA can too.
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