Monday, December 1, 2014

State-Sponsored Corruption of the World Cup Bidding Process

Last week, The Sunday Times continued its heroic work investigating FIFA by submitting a brief to the UK Parliament on its ongoing analysis of the so-called FIFA Files which a whistle blower shared with the paper.

The most important new revelations in the submission, published here, are that the allegations of corruption involving FIFA and the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups involve much more than just individuals selling votes. As one source told the Sunday Times:
“We did have intelligence that states paid bribes to Fifa members"
State-sponsored corruption of FIFA, which is probably an surprise to no one, makes the issue even more difficult. The new revelations originate in an intelligence-gathering effort by the England 2018 campaign which apparently spied on its competitors and assembled a yet-to-be-released dossier on what it found. It is alleged that the British government aided in the spying campaign.

The Sunday Times explains of the Russian bid:
Sources said Putin was understood to have summoned a select group of oligarchs and tasked them with doing whatever was necessary to ensure the victory of the Russia 2018 bid, including striking personal deals with voters. The ex-MI6 source said: “What you need to remember about this is the way this was done in Russia is that nothing was written down. Don’t expect me or anyone else to produce a document with Putin’s signature saying please X bribe Y with this amount in this way. He’s not going to do that.” He explained: “Putin is an ex intelligence officer. Everything he does has to be deniable.” He said that the deals with voters “would have been strategic level but not state to state because of the need for deniability. That’s why the oligarchs were brought in”.  He added: “Sochi was a complete pigs’ trough in terms of corruption and the World Cup is five times as big.”
The currency of corruption was allegedly gas deals brokered by energy rich Russia and Qatar. The Sunday Times provides what appears to be a smoking gun linking a gas deal between Qatar and Thailand to the World Cup (reported here last June and then denied here immediately thereafter).

One remarkable allegation involves Michele Platini, head of UEFA, and widely expected to run for the FIFA presidency when Sepp Blatter finally step down in 2068. The Sunday Times reports that Platini was given a Picasso painting by the Russian government, even Putin himself (Platini denies this and has threatened a libel suit). Other FIFA officials are also accused of accepting gifts of art from Russian vaults, with Michel D'Hoogh of Belgium, confirming that he was indeed given a painting. Platini was also alleged to have been pressured to vote for the Qatar bid by Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president at the time, to facilitate political relations between France and Qatar.

The individuals named in the Sunday Times briefing to the UK parliament include Vladimir Putin, Nicolas Sarkozy, David Cameron and refers to government officials of other countries as well. If you want to understand why it is that FIFA cannot handle this issue on its own, you need look no farther than this.

To reform FIFA will require the involvement of governments, and at the highest levels. With David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy looking at upcoming elections, it would be hard to imagine either taking an interest in FIFA reform. Perhaps current French President Hollande might see an advantage in raising the issue, but I doubt it. It is hard to imagine other footballing nations or those involved in the 2018/2022 bidding process taking an interest either (probably ruling out Germany and Holland).

So that most likely leaves the US and its FBI, which is apparently looking into FIFA for yet-to-be-released reasons. The incoming Republican Congress might appreciate a chance to focus attention on foreign governments involved in corrupt practices. While possible, both seem like long shots, especially the interest of the US Congress. The more likely outcome is lots of outrage and indignation followed by World Cups in Russia and Qatar in 2018 and 2022. But I'd like to be proven wrong.


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