World Cup irregularities 'will be probed'
FIFA's chief investigator has told France Football magazine that he will fully investigate any irregularities into the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar respectively.
American Michael Garcia has been charged with the task of helping clean up world football's governing body as the head of the investigatory arm of FIFA's ethics committee. The former US Attorney has the full backing of FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who needs to be seen to be making the organisation as transparent as possible.
The central focus of his efforts is on the decisions to award the World Cup finals to Russia and Qatar, with the 2022 tournament in the Gulf state especially shrouded in controversy.
"When you speak to people about the World Cup (in 2022), they have very firm opinions, or major interests at stake," Garcia said in an interview published in France Football on Tuesday. "One or the other. Not me. I have no opinion on things like when it should take place. But I will listen to every opinion and will examine all the information with the same impartiality, whether it comes from the United States, from Qatar, Russia or Australia.
"Evidently, my first priority is to determine whether there were any violations of the ethics code by football officials."
However, Garcia is putting no time limit on his investigations for the moment, and accepts that it may not be realistic to expect any major progress to have been made before the FIFA Congress in Mauritius on May 31.
"It's too soon," he added. "I hope that significant progress will have been made by then, one way or the other. But I have no idea where we will be."
And he also admitted that he cannot make any decisions on whether the World Cup ultimately takes place in Qatar or not.
"The only thing we can do is say: 'You have violated this clause of the ethics code and, as responsible football people, will be punished.' But we can only focus on the people. The decisions relating to the site for the World Cup - that is out of my jurisdiction. It is a completely different process."
Meanwhile, Garcia says he plans to have a report prepared into the ISL bribery affair in the coming days. A Swiss prosecutor revealed last year that then-FIFA president Joao Havelange and his fellow Brazilian Ricardo Teixeira, a former member of the FIFA executive committee, received bribes worth millions of dollars in the 1990s from the rights agency ISL, which is now defunct.
"A timetable has been established," he said. "There will be an executive committee meeting on March 20 and 21. My objective is to at least have a preliminary report prepared by then."