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After the FIFA judge, Hans-Joachim Eckert, announced that Qatar and Russia had been cleared of charges of corruption in the bidding process, there had been hopes that the continuing battles over the decision to award the country the 2022 World Cup might settle down, but the opposite is actually happening. Internal disagreements and backbiting among the main officers of the governing body have become public, and while Qatar does not appear likely to lose the host role for the 2022 tournament, it remains at the center of several controversies. This report also called into question the ethics of not only Qatar and Russia, but several other countries with respect to the bidding process, as well as calling into question what was described as a “culture of entitlement” among executive committee members. An investigation originally intended to resolve issues of confidence in FIFA and the bidding process has instead brought into the spotlight numerous concerns which threaten to drag the conflict on indefinitely.
After Eckert’s announcement, Michael J. Garcia, who was the chief investigator for the FIFA Investigatory Chamber’s probe of the Qatar bidding process corruption charges and author of the report submitted to the judge, publicly challenged the ruling. He claimed there were inconsistencies and misrepresentations of the conclusions made within his report in the judge’s statement. He challenged the exoneration of Russia and Qatar from significant ethics violations in the bidding process. This turned the ruling into a public battle between high-ranking officials in the governing body. Now, parties from several countries are eager to obtain the original report, which has been kept confidential at the request of the judge. What, and how much information will be made available to the public has become a matter of much public discussion.
Eckert released a summary of the initial report (link below) which has met with some criticism aside from the challenges of Garcia, as it failed to mention specifically the individuals who will be facing ethics hearings as a result of the Qatar bidding process, and the charges being brought against them. In addition, the judge has been questioned for not including either in the statement or the summary, specific charges against executive committee members for what has been described as a pattern of failing to consider their responsibilities to the body in favor of entitled behavior which demonstrates an attitude that the rules of the organization do not necessarily apply to those executive committee members. According to the Wall Street Journal, the committee members have expressed concerns over the last two months about the report, and whether or not the redactions made to that report would be sufficient to protect them. Reportedly, it was assurances from Eckert that the complete report would not be released that alleviated their concerns, but that same report, along with the judge’s statement that the release of the report would be incompatible with the burden of confidentiality under which the committee operates, has caused further questions about what is being kept from the public in the report. Sepp Blatter, the FIFA president, was reportedly cleared of any misconduct in the report. It supposedly mentioned, however, significant criticism of several members of the executive committee.
The statement on the matter by the judge did acknowledge “problematic” behavior on the part of committee members, but that it was nothing significant enough to compromise the FIFA bidding process for Russia and Qatar. Some concerns were raised about other countries in the bidding process, most notably England. In fact, all but one of the countries submitting bids were mentioned as having irregularities, with the combination bid from The Netherlands and Belgium the only one without issues. THe England bid, though it has all been denied by the English Federation, had questions raised because of association with Jack Warner, a former vice president of FIFA who resigned amid bribery charges.
With all of the public accusations and questions coming out, there seems to be little chance that there will be any speedy resolution. The judge’s ruling is made, however, and that means that the 2018 and 2022 games are unlikely to be taken from Russia or Qatar. While there are still concerns about the timing of the 2022 games because of the intense heat in Qatar during the summer when the tournament would normally be held. Alternate timetables have been suggested, including holding the tournament either in February, May, or November. That decision is likely to come down in 2015, with the different associated leagues all needing to weigh in on the impact moving the Qatar World Cup would have on their individual competitions and players. In all, it seems certain that FIFA and the battles over the upcoming tournaments will be making headlines for some time to come.
Commentary By Jim Malone