FIFA ran a “Wild West” bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups which encouraged would-be hosts to enter into inappropriate behaviour, Britain's former sports minister Hugh Robertson has said.
The world governing body is firmly under the spotlight again following the release of a report on Thursday by the chairman of the adjudicatory chamber of FIFA’s ethics committee which cleared Russia and Qatar to host the 2018 and 2022 tournaments having found no serious breaches of bidding rules by either nation.
However, the man who led the investigation on which that report was based, American lawyer Michael Garcia, immediately appealed against the findings of the published report, saying it contained “numerous materially incomplete and erroneous representations of the facts and conclusions” detailed in his own report – which has not been made public.
While Russia and Qatar were effectively cleared in the report published by German judge Hans-Joachim Eckert, the England 2018 bid team was criticised for a number of rule violations, particularly in how it sought to secure the votes controlled by former FIFA vice-president Jack Warner.
The Sunday Times has reported that Qatari national Mohammed Bin Hammam sought to strike a vote-sharing deal with an England bid official. Bin Hammam was banned from all football activity for life in 2011 after being found guilty of bribery during his campaign to oust Sepp Blatter as FIFA president, but the Qatar 2022 bid team has always insisted that he never had any official role in its organisation.
Qatar 2022 and the joint Spain-Portugal 2018 bid teams have always strenuously denied collusion over the sharing of votes, and no evidence of this was presented in Eckert’s report.
Robertson, who was appointed as Britain's Minister for Sport in the months leading up to the decision to award the World Cup to Russia and Qatar in December 2010, said it very quickly became clear to him that the process was flawed.
He told BBC Radio Five Live’s Sportsweek programme: “The problem here is that the FIFA rules were not at all clear. I asked the question when I became sports minister about what we were and were not allowed to do, and one of (the England 2018 bid team) said, and I quote exactly: ’There are no rules, it is a Wild West of a bidding process'.”
Robertson claimed the violations by England 2018 detailed by Eckert – which included helping to secure employment for an associate of Warner and covering the costs of a £35,000 gala dinner for Caribbean Football Union officials – were “minor infractions” compared to other things he believes were going on.
“Being British we’ve been quite honest about what we did and I suspect quite a lot of other bidding nations haven’t been honest,” he added.
“You come back to the central point in all this – the 2018 bid team did not think they had done anything wrong. Andy Anson who was leading the bid is a man of enormous integrity and honesty.”
Robertson backed calls for Garcia’s report to be published in full, adding: “(Publishing the report) is the only possible way that FIFA can start to regain its reputation. It has no reputation at all – the words ’FIFA’ and ’corruption’ are inextricably linked.
“The only way they could start to repair their reputation would be to publish that report in full, to shine a light into dark places.
“But I think the chances of that happening are fairly limited, unless Michael Garcia decides the damage to his professional reputation is so great that he redacts those bits where he’s made commitments to people and then releases it unilaterally, I think that’s probably our best hope.”