Leading figures at Fifa, soccer’s international governing body, have given their backing to a continuing probe of the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups in the wake of claims that some colleagues wanted the head of the investigation ousted.
US attorney Michael Garcia, the chairman of the investigatory chamber of Fifa’s ethics committee, has lately been interviewing members of the federation’s executive committee who participated in the voting to decide the hosts of the two tournaments more than three years ago, which has been shrouded in allegations of corruption.
However, some of the executive committee members have objected to this development, especially with little warning, and wanted Garcia to be stood down, according to Reuters.
It is reported that efforts to curtail the probe on the occasion of last week’s meeting of the executive committee in Zurich were resisted by other members and that the issue was not even discussed in the sessions.
In December 2010, the Fifa executive committee voted to award the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 tournament to Qatar, with the latter decision seen as particularly controversial because of the tiny Gulf state’s lack of soccer heritage and hot summer temperatures of up to 50 degrees Celsius, which have prompted a study to consider whether the event should move to the northern hemisphere winter.
Persistent allegations of vote-buying and collusion in the bidding process prompted the Fifa executive committee, under its re-elected president Sepp Blatter, to instruct Garcia to investigate whether there was any wrongdoing, in part by speaking to members of the bidding teams, and the federation has confirmed that this process will continue unabated.
In a statement yesterday, Michel Platini, a vice-president of Fifa and the president of Uefa, European soccer’s governing body, said: "I would condemn any possible attempt to derail the investigation and I want the process to continue to the very end."
This message was endorsed by Jeffery Webb, another Fifa vice-president and the president of Concacaf, which oversees soccer in North and Central America and the Caribbean, who said: "I fully support the mandate we have given the ethics committee and will encourage Mr Garcia to continue with his work."
Jim Boyce of Northern Ireland and Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein, two other Fifa vice-presidents, have admitted reservations were expressed about Garcia’s work, but that they themselves were opposed to him being removed, as they wanted the investigation to continue, and said that such a proposal was not discussed.
Only 13 of the 22 Fifa executive committee members who voted to decide the hosts of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup are still in situ.
The news that Garcia would be interviewing those members came in the same week in which it was reported that Jack Warner, a former vice-president of Fifa, and his family and associates received almost $2.4 million from a firm headed up by Mohamed Bin Hammam of Qatar, another former executive committee member, shortly after the award of the competition to the Middle East country.
Warner himself received $1.2 million, while his sons got $750,000 and one of his employees was handed $400,000, according to the UK’s Daily Telegraph newspaper.
It is understood that the FBI is investigating Warner and his alleged links to the Qatar bid and that his eldest son, who is based in Miami, has been assisting with the inquiry.
The revelations have led to some calls for the 2022 World Cup to be withdrawn from Qatar and for the voting to be held again.
However, Warner has dismissed the report as "foolishness" while the Qatari organisers of the tournament have reiterated that they acted within the Fifa regulations during the successful bidding campaign.