Sepp Blatter and Mohamed bin Hammam, pictured in 2011. Photo: AFP
Football Federation Australia will adopt a wait-and-see approach as the damaging revelations about Qatar’s alleged vote-buying for the 2022 World Cup hosting rights continue to deepen.
While clouds have long hung over the tiny emirate’s successful push to host the world’s showpiece sporting event, allegations from the Sunday Times in London have highlighted extensive corruption related to former FIFA vice president Mohammed bin Hammam, who is closely connected with Qatar’s bid.
The newspaper claims to have been leaked “millions of documents” that “expose how Qatar’s astonishing victory in the race to secure the right to host the 2022 tournament was sealed by a covert campaign by Mohammed bin Hammam”. The newspaper claims he paid US$5 million ($5.4 million) to gain the backing of key powerbrokers in the lead up to the bid, which saw Qatar triumph ahead of rival bids from the US, Japan, South Korea and Australia.
Explosive: The front page of The Sunday Times.
As external pressure increases on FIFA to undertake a new vote, FFA says it is keeping a very keen eye on the developments.
“We note these are very serious allegations," a spokesman said. "We’ve been monitoring FIFA’s investigations for many months and we’ll be keenly interested in their response. But at this stage, we can only continue to encourage a thorough process which covers all the facts as soon as possible.”
FFA chairman Frank Lowy has often uttered the same, cryptic line in the past whenever improper allegations about Qatar have surfaced, repeatedly saying: “The last word has not been heard”.
According to the Sunday Times report, bin Hammam used 10 slush funds controlled by his private company and cash to make dozens of payments of up to $US200,000 into accounts controlled by the presidents of 30 African football associations who influenced how the continent’s four executive members would vote. He also allegedly hosted lavish junkets for these African officials at which he handed out almost $US400,000 in cash. Bin Hammam is also accused of funnelling more than $US1.6 million directly into bank accounts controlled by former FIFA vice president Jack Warner, including $US450,000 before the vote.
Warner resigned from football duties, including his 28-year membership of FIFA’s committee, in June 2011 to avoid investigation in a bribery scandal linked to bin Hammam’s campaign for the FIFA presidency.
Former FIFA ethics committee member and prominent Australian broadcaster Les Murray has been an outspoken critic of the bid process, writing during the furore over the tournament’s proposed switch from summer to winter meant the “only clean and legitimate way to do it [host the event] would be to scrap the 2010 decision and call for new bids”.
But for all the speculation about the possibility of the World Cup being taken away from Qatar, it remains highly unlikely.
The only men who can make it happen are FIFA’s executive committee, who will have to overturn their original decision. Doing so will be seen as an admission of guilt.
There is also the fact that bin Hammam is now officially separated from the Qatari bid, having been twice banned for life from all football posts by FIFA (the first ban was annulled).
While the tournament can easily be hosted at short notice by losing bidders, only wholesale change at FIFA can realistically bring about another vote.
That in itself remains unlikely, given the prospective candidates for the FIFA presidential election, due for next year.
The incumbent Sepp Blatter, widely believed to have voted for the USA in the bid process, has only moved to outmanoeuvre bin Hammam – who challenged him for the presidency three years ago – rather than quash the Qatari bid outright.
It has been suggested Blatter has allowed the Qatari issue to fester because of the damage it continues to do to his main political rival, UEFA boss Michel Platini. His support of Qatar 2022 – Platini has actively encouraged political and economic relations between Doha and Paris, and his son works for a Qatari company – means he is unlikely to revisit the hosting issue.
The only confirmed candidate aside from Blatter is his former aide and former FIFA executive, Jerome Champagne. Although he has suggested stripping Qatar has to “be on the table” if it is found to have done wrong, it remains unknown if he will gather the numbers to mount a credible threat at the next election.