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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

FIFA Sweeps Allegations of Soccer Graft Under Carpet, U.K. Lawmakers Say


Soccer’s governing body FIFA, which has come under fire amid accusations of corruption, has sought to “sweep all allegations of misconduct under the carpet,” U.K. lawmakers said today.
England’s offer to stage the World Cup, sports’ most- watched event, came last of four bidders when Russia was chosen for 2018 by a FIFA panel last December. Since then, FIFA and the English bid team have both been criticized, amid corruption concerns over the executive body that decided the hosting rights and claims of incompetence against the English campaign.
Today’s report by the U.K.’s Culture, Media and Sport select committee into the bid came after it took evidence from senior soccer officials. They included David Triesman, ex- chairman of England’s Football Association, who alleged that four members of FIFA’s executive committee sought favors in exchange for votes. FIFA said there was no proof they’d done anything wrong.
“FIFA has given every impression of wishing to sweep all allegations of misconduct under the carpet and of dismissing anyone bringing allegations to them with an approach bordering on contempt,” the lawmakers’ report said.
Zurich-based FIFA remains the focus of corruption claims. In May, it hired former FBI Director Louis Freeh to investigate allegations that Mohamed Bin Hammam, the head of soccer in Asia, and Jack Warner, then a FIFA vice-president, conspired to bribe voters in the Caribbean to choose Bin Hammam over FIFA’s incumbent president, Sepp Blatter, in an election last month. The accused men deny wrongdoing.

Resignation

Warner, who was also the head of regional soccer body Concacaf, resigned last month and FIFA as a result dropped its investigation into him. In the past year, 10 of FIFA’s 24-member executive board, including Blatter, have been suspended or investigated over claims of improper conduct.
“We find the decision to drop the investigation following the resignation of FIFA Vice President Jack Warner extraordinary, and it suggests that nothing has changed,” the U.K. lawmakers said. As a “first step towards restoring confidence,” they called on FIFA to publish all the evidence of any wrongdoing by officials.
Blatter, 75, won a fourth four-year term on June 1 after Bin Hammam withdrew his candidacy. Blatter immediately announced plans for new plans to improve his organization’s corporate governance, saying there’d be “zero tolerance” of unethical conduct. Last month it was announced that former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and tenor Placido Domingo had been asked to join a council of “wise” people.

Campaign Criticized

The England bid team was criticized by the lawmakers over how it ran the campaign.
England’s bid cost the F.A. 15 million pounds ($24.1 million) and ended in failure as a final week of lobbying by a team including Prime Minister David CameronPrince William and David Beckham yielded just two of 22 votes. Previously England, which won the World Cup as host in 1966, failed to secure the 2006 event that went to Germany.
“Lessons did not appear to have been learned from previous studies with regard to the composition and unity of the bid team, and the messages it needed to project,” the report said. “More fundamentally, it appears that the groundwork for a successful bid had not been laid effectively with football’s international bodies.”

Alleged Corruption

England’s bid scored highest marks on many of the technical aspects yet failed to secure votes. Members of the bid team and voters put much of the blame on British media. The Sunday Times and the British Broadcasting Corp. both carried reports accusing FIFA members of bribery.
The lawmakers’ 27-page report said the media were within their rights to publish material that exposed alleged corruption, and added that the U.K. government should evaluate the merits of a bid before announcing the country’s candidature. It also said the F.A. needs better engagement with its international partners.
“We can confirm that the F.A. Chairman David Bernstein has began a process of evaluating our current representation on FIFA and UEFA committees, while determining how we can best strengthen our international relationships, both formally and informally,” the F.A. said.
To contact the reporter on this story: Tariq Panja in the London newsroom on attpanja@bloomberg.net
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Elser at celser@bloomberg.net