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The Sunday Times investigate allegations of a fix at Fifa

Jonathan Calvert, Claire Newell, Mihir Bose and John Follain

A few weeks before the vote on who should stage the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments, a Sunday Times reporter spoke to a senior figure in the world of football. England would make a good host, the administrator said, but stood no chance of winning.

“They’ve got all the good reasons why they should host it,” explained Ahongalu Fusimalohi, a former member of the executive committee of Fifa, the body that decides where the World Cup is played. “But they [England] don’t strike the deals.”

He continued: “Globally if you don’t come up with something, that’s … although it’s corrupt, it’s only corrupt if you get caught. These people will go all over the world, all the way, to find it and get it at any price. It’s sad but it’s true.”

His words were prophetic. While England were offering handbags to the wives of Fifa’s executive committee members, other bidders were dangling far more alluring treasures: payments running to seven figures to seal a vote. Several well-connected sources from around the world separately alleged that large amounts of money were on offer and that deals had been done.

Two former and one serving Fifa official said that supporters of one bid were offering between $1m and $1.2m for an individual’s vote. Fresh allegations surfaced last week as the vote drew near.

On Wednesday, a new whistleblower spoke to The Sunday Times, again claiming cash offers had been made similar to those previously mentioned — but this time the sum involved was $1.5m per vote.

The whistleblower said: “my understanding is that it was personal … it was basically money for their votes.”

Only the select band of Fifa executive committee members knows exactly how the staging of the two World Cups was decided — because the voting is secret. The result, however, has shocked observers and sparked outrage and condemnation, at least in England.

Russia, last week described in leaked diplomatic cables as a “virtual mafia state”, swept the board to stage the 2018 competition. Qatar, a gulf kingdom of 1.6m people and a lot of sand, did the same for the 2022 event. England came nowhere.

The scale of the voting in favour of the winners fuelled suspicions that all was not as straightforward as Fifa would have fans believe.

Andy Anson, the chief executive of Britain’s bid, warned other countries to avoid competing for Fifa’s affections in future: “I would say right now don’t bother [bidding to stage a World Cup] unless you know the process is going to change.”

Mark Field MP, vice-chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on football, described the process as “squalid vote-bartering”.

Ivan Lewis, shadow secretary of state for sport, called for action. “We have to build alliances with other countries to demand maximum transparency from Fifa in future and a credible process to investigate all allegations of corruption,” he said. “Anyone found guilty must be thrown out.”

Nor was it just the English who were dismayed. Ron Walker, a member of the Australian football federation, said there had been “contamination” of the voting system and that is was “time it changed”.

Don’t hold your breath.

TO many observers Fifa resembles a rich, extended family propelled by individual rivalries and personal gain rather than transparent priorities. Money and connections talk. England has never really fitted in, despite its illustrious football heritage.

Absent from the French creation of Fifa in 1904, England shunned the organisation for years and — despite much respect for the Premier League — is still not seen as truly part of the Fifa family.

Worse, England incurred the festering grievance of Sepp Blatter, Fifa’s power-broker, when it opposed his bid for re-election as president. England supported his rival, Issa Hayatou, president of the Confederation of African Football — and Blatter has never forgotten it.

When England began its campaign to stage the 2018 tournament, it attempted to improve relations with Fifa by hiring a former senior Fifa employee. The strategy of getting under the skin the Fifa family did not last long.

After Lord Triesman, a former general secretary of the Labour party, was made chairman of the Football Association, the services of the Fifa insider were abandoned.

By contrast Russia, aiming to take the World Cup to eastern Europe for the first time, knew that for all the talk of technical merits, victory would depend on working the Fifa inside line.

England, by contrast, made little use of their “insider” — Geoff Thompson, the one English member of Fifa’s executive committee. As the bidding process progressed, it required all the persuasive powers of Lord Coe and Sir Keith Mills, the chairman and deputy chairman of London 2012 respectively, to assuage Thompson’s hurt feelings and bring him back into the fold.

Nevertheless, in a more transparent process, England should have stood a chance. Its detailed bid, existing infrastructure and commercial opportunities presented great advantages — as Fifa admitted. But that wasn’t what counted.

Two other considerations were more telling. First, Fifa was attracted to staging the World Cup in parts of the globe where football was still a relatively new market. England did not qualify; Russia (and Qatar for 2022) obviously did.

Second, the secretive voting process made the fate of the multi-billion-pound event highly vulnerable to collusion and corruption among the 24 members of Fifa’s executive committee. In October, The Sunday Times revealed that serving and former members of the body had been filmed discussing the selling of votes.

This newspaper sent video footage to Fifa of Raynald Temarii, an executive committee member, saying that his Oceania Football Confederation had been offered “huge” amounts of money — which he later said was between $10m and $12m. Footage of Amos Adamu, another Fifa member, discussing money was also sent.

Both Adamu and Temarii maintain that their votes have never been for sale. However, Fifa suspended them — reducing the committee to 22. Last week some sources claimed this was more than just an embarrassment: it allegedly threatened to ruin the carefully laid plans of Russia, which, they said, was counting on the two members’ votes.

Fifa’s system faced further allegations last Monday when the BBC’s Panorama programme accused three of its executives of taking bribes in a scandal involving more than £60m. The allegations related to events in the 1990s, prompting Fifa to shrug it off as raking over an old scandal that had already been resolved.

The BBC made a strong defence of its right to broadcast the allegations. And a poll for The Sunday Times this weekend shows that 79% of people believe the newspaper was justified in exposing how Fifa committee members discussed taking money for votes.

Fifa took a different view. It didn’t want to hear about corruption — except perhaps behind closed doors.

      

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