Answering questions surrounding FIFA's ethics investigation summary
Got questions about the latest goings-on regarding FIFA and the investigation into the bidding processes for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups? So does Gab Marcotti. He has answers, too.
Q: OK, so I read FIFA's statement which responds to Michael Garcia's investigation and it boils down to the fact that most bid committees engaged in some level of wrongdoing, which might warrant further investigation, but there's no evidence of anything really, really bad. That means it's clear sailing ahead for Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022. Am I right?
A: Pretty much. Or as Hans-Joachim Eckert, the chair of the Investigatory Chamber of FIFA's Ethics Committee, put it: "The effects of these occurrences on the bidding process as a whole were far from reaching any threshold that would require returning to the bidding process, let alone reopening it." So, yeah, some dicey stuff went on, but not enough to have a revote. Or even further review.
That's what Michael Garcia's report says. Or, rather, that's what Eckert says is in the report, because we're not allowed to see it. What we do get is Eckert's summary of what's in the 350-page report. If you're bored, you can read it yourself. According to Eckert, only four people have seen the full report in its entirety.
Q: For real? Who are these lucky people?
A: It's not entirely clear, but you would hope one of them is Eckert, because he wrote the summary. And you'd imagine another two are Garcia, the former U.S. Attorney who heads FIFA's Investigatory Chamber, and his deputy, Cornel Borbely, who is a Swiss prosecutor. No clue who the fourth guy is. You'd have thought it would be Eckert's deputy, Alan Sullivan, except, according to Eckert, Sullivan recused himself on account of the fact that he's Australian and Australia were one of the nations bidding for the 2022 World Cup.
Q: Got it, so they didn't want an Australian reading and helping summarize a report on Australia. Wait, how is that different from Garcia? He's American and the United States bid for 2022 also and he actually wrote the report.
A: Yes, but apparently he was uninvolved with the parts concerning the USA and Russia, so there is no conflict of interest. Borbely did those investigations all by himself.
Q: Right but Russia? Why couldn't Garcia investigate Russia? Does he also have Russian citizenship?
A: Nope. He wasn't allowed to travel to Russia. The Russian government didn't want to give him a visa, because he was once involved in the prosecution of a guy named Viktor Bout, a Russian national currently serving a 25-year sentence for arms trafficking. The Russian government considered it a politically motivated prosecution, so he's banned from the country.
Q: Why would you appoint a special investigator to investigate a country when you know he's already on that country's blacklist?
A: Dunno. It's a FIFA mystery. Another FIFA mystery is why -- given the fact that they've awarded Russia the 2018 World Cup -- they couldn't ask President Vladimir Putin for special dispensation to let Garcia in. Or, use their influence to make the Russians who needed to be interviewed come to meet Garcia.
Q: Fine. But apart from this, the investigation went smoothly?
A: Not really. The probe, remember, had no subpoena powers. Nobody could be forced to talk to Garcia or Borbely. So some folks made themselves scarce.
Q: Like who?
A: I can't give you names, because Eckert didn't put them in his summary. But consider the following. The 24 FIFA Executive Committee members who voted on 2018 and 2022 were all supposed to be interviewed or submit written answers to questions.
Sixteen agreed immediately. Two initially refused and then agreed. Another agreed only after FIFA started ethics proceedings against him. Three either declined or did not respond to the request. And they couldn't find the other two.
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Q: They couldn't find them?
A: Apparently they went dark. Incommunicado. No fixed abode. Not even a fancy special investigator armed with such powers as Google and Facebook can find them. But, of course, we don't know which ones made themselves scarce because Eckert, citing confidentiality statutes, won't tell us who they are. Just as he won't tell us many details about what's in the report. He has his reasons for not sharing.
Q: OK, but beyond that Garcia and Borbely got to speak to whom they needed to speak to?
A: Not really. One of the bidding teams was "particularly uncooperative." Again, Eckert doesn't tell us who it is, but by something magical called the process of elimination we know he's probably talking about Spain/Portugal 2018.
Q: How do you work that out?
A: Every other bid is discussed in detail and Eckert makes a point of saying they cooperated to varying degrees. Spain/Portugal's bid is not discussed. It wouldn't make sense to specifically and individually note the cooperation of eight bids if one of them was being "extremely uncooperative."
Q: Can they do that? Just say 'no'?
A: Again, according to Eckert's report, when you sign documents agreeing to bid, you also agree to cooperate with future investigations. So, theoretically, no. And I suppose they could face further investigation for not cooperating. But I wouldn't hold my breath.
Bloomberg reported that Miguel Angel Lopez, a Spanish FA official, did say that he and a colleague were interviewed by one of Garcia's assistants in May. But whatever they said evidently wasn't deemed worthy -- or thorough enough -- for inclusion in Eckert's summary.
Eckert also says that Russia 2018 made "only a limited amount of documents available." But there's a reason for it. They rented most of the computers they used during the bidding process. And then they returned them to the rental company. Who then destroyed them.
Q: Guess they're not big on cloud computing, are they?
A: Actually, they did use Gmail accounts as well. But they're no longer active. The Russians told Borbely that they wrote to Google to see if they could get access to their old Gmail accounts. But, they claim, Google never wrote back to them.
Q: All right. So you said everybody engaged in wrongdoing and ...
A: Nope. Not everybody. Belgium/Netherlands 2018 cooperated fully and no "issues" were found with their bid. They're the only ones though. Well, they didn't find any issues with Spain/Portugal 2018 either, though, of course, that's because they didn't cooperate.
Q: OK, sorry. I'm liking the idea of Belgium and Netherlands more than ever now. But the other bids all had something sketchy about them?
A: According to the report, yes, though the dubiousness ranges wildly. Japan gave some ExCo members -- and their wives -- "special balls, digital cameras and clutch bags" for a total value of between $700 and $2,000. One of the USA bid committee members was reportedly accused of implying a willingness to do some horse trading: back the USA and then 2026 will go to Asia, specifically China. But we're talking small fry, distinctly junior varsity shenanigans here, when compared to some of the other stuff.
Q: Such as?
A: It's stuff you already know, probably. All the business with Qatar and former Asian Football Confederation president Mohamed bin Hammam throwing money around. Qatar 2022 paying $1.8 million to "sponsor" the Confederation of African Football Congress, organizing -- and paying for -- high-profile friendlies involving nations whose FAs had ExCo members.
Improper (or inexistent) reporting of contacts made with FIFA ExCo members in the case of Russia. England agreeing to inappropriate requests from at least two ExCo members. (One of them was Jack Warner, the disgraced former CONCACAF uber-boss, who wanted to get a buddy of his a job in England).
Australia 2022 making payments to the Oceania Football Federation, apparently at the request of an ExCo member from that region, as well as payments to CONCACAF, some of which found their way into Warner's accounts.
And then there's the development stuff which is maybe most problematic of all ...
Q: What's that?
A: This is where sports and big-boy politics mix. But, in a nutshell, most bids said they would create massive funds to pay for development programs in countries around the world: pitches, academies, schools and trained coaches. For example, England 2018's "Football United" fund. It's all well and good, but the issue is where this money comes from. In some bids, it was alleged that it was being diverted from government funds already earmarked for overseas development and, in others, there's the potential of it being seen as sheer pork.
In other words: Vote for us and we'll build a dozen football schools in your country, maybe, say, giving the construction contract to your buddy's company and hiring, perhaps, your cousin's husband to run them. There was no suggestion in the report (or, at least, Eckert's summary of it) that England 2018's version of the fund had anything wrong with it whatsoever, but, for example, Eckert did pick out issues with the Korean version.
Q: In any case, all of this was for nought, right?
A: Bingo! From Hans-Joachim's lips to God's ears. There were "certain occurrences that were suited to impair the integrity of the 2018/2022 FIFA World Cups." But "the effects of these occurrences on the bidding process as a whole were far from reaching any threshold that would require returning to the bidding process, let alone reopening it."
Q: Are you satisfied with this?
A: Nope. And neither is Michael Garcia, who actually wrote the darn thing. He said on Thursday in response: "Today's decision by the Chairman of the Adjudicatory Chamber contains numerous materially incomplete and erroneous representations of the facts and conclusions detailed in the Investigatory Chamber's report." Which, I guess, means he's not happy with Eckert's summary of his 18-month long investigation. He said he's going to appeal himself to FIFA's Ethics Committee.
(Which, of course, opens up a whole other freak show. His appeal would have to be investigated by the Investigatory Branch of which he's the chairman, with Borbely as deputy. And then it would be adjudicated by the Adjudicatory Chamber, which is run by Eckert. Maybe FIFA's Ethics Committee needs its own Ethics Committee to resolve these disputes.)
The Wall Street Journal, quoting a source "familiar with the report" -- and, remember, according to Eckert, only four humans have seen it -- says it highlights the Executive Comittee's "culture of entitlement" and "a failure to consider their obligation to the organization." Not that you would know any of this from reading Eckert's summary.
Q: Wow. That's all depressing. Is there anything good that can come out of this?
A: Hang on while I put on my rose-tinted glasses. I think we may have passed some point of no return in terms of the bid process. It obviously needs revamping, with stiffer rules and more transparency. And there could be enough political will to do that.
There has been a bit of a generational change on the ExCo as well and while I'm not going to vouch for every single one of those people, I feel better about more of them than I did the previous crew. But yeah, we're talking about turning an oil tanker here. It takes a long time and it's difficult to do. Especially when the captain of said oil tanker has been in charge for decades.
Gabriele Marcotti is a columnist for ESPN FC, The Times and Corriere dello Sport. Follow him on Twitter @Marcotti.