Bidding for next 2 World Cups turns into a circus

Updated: Oct 28, 2010, 09:35 AM IST

London: When it comes to the world`s biggest
game and the world`s biggest tournament, allegations of
corruption are never far behind - and often don`t appear to be
too far from the truth.

The bidding process to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups
has turned into a circus - with allegations of some FIFA
executives supposedly offering to sell their votes,
trash-talking and alleged vote-trading between bidding
nations, and fierce arguments over which continent should get
to host the 2018 event.

FIFA, the governing body of world football, is under the
spotlight, and there`s billions at stake and plenty of
reputations on the line. Eleven countries are vying for the
right to host the next two premier single-sport competitions
in the world - and 24 FIFA officials get to decide who wins on
Dec. 2 in Zurich.

"The awarding of the World Cup is a multibillion dollar
judgment. It`s huge. It doesn`t get any bigger than that in
terms of finances in the world of sports," said Declan Hill, a
Canadian investigative journalist who has published a book
called "The Fix: Soccer & Organized Crime." "World Cup
dominates sports. It makes the World Series and Super Bowl and
all these things look like peanuts."

The latest FIFA scandal is akin to the one that rocked
the Olympics, when IOC members took bribes to vote for Salt
Lake City as host of the 2002 Winter Games. That led to some
big changes in the International Olympic Committee`s voting
system.

But at FIFA, it appears that votes are still for sale.
And that will be likely to be on the agenda Thursday and
Friday when the executive committee meets in Zurich.

England, Russia, Belgium-Netherlands and Spain-Portugal
are in the running for the 2018 World Cup, while the United
States, Australia, Japan, South Korea and Qatar are looking to
host the tournament in 2022. This is the first time that two
World Cups have been decided at the same time - a potential
bonanza for would-be vote sellers or traders.

Earlier this month, The Sunday Times in London released
footage of interviews with FIFA executives Amos Adamu of
Nigeria and Reynald Temarii of Tahiti appearing to offer their
votes for sale. The ethics committee provisionally suspended
both until Novmber 17 - meaning they could still vote on
December 2.

"The information in the article has created a very
negative impact on FIFA and on the bidding process for the
2018 and 2022 World Cups," FIFA President Sepp Blatter,
speaking shortly after the reports emerged, said in his
standard understated way.

Soon after, however, other reports alleged that former
FIFA general secretary Michel Zen-Ruffinen said Spain-Portugal
and Qatar had struck a deal giving each seven votes from the
24-man FIFA executive committee for their respective
tournaments.

"The whole thing is cloaked in conflicts of interest,"
Hill said. "Blatter depends on many of the people that he`s
supposed to police, in terms of voting, so he has a natural
conflict of interest in terms of wanting to clean it up."

Amazingly, the allegations have done little to tarnish
the image of FIFA, even though International Olympic Committee
president Jacques Rogge urged Blatter - himself an IOC member
- to make FIFA more transparent.

"I encouraged him to do exactly what he has done and to
try to clean out as much as possible," Rogge said Tuesday in
Acapulco.

The difference between the IOC and FIFA, however, could
be the desire to come clean.

"Within the Olympic association, there were actually
people that wanted to make sure that it was reformed. There
were very high level American politicians that were pressing
for reform," Hill said. "Here, there`s nobody inside FIFA
that`s really taking up the mantle for reform."

Trash-talking has also become a part of the vote.

Last week, Russian bid leader Alexey Sorokin reportedly
criticized England`s bid to host the 2018 tournament by saying
that London has a high crime rate and a youth drinking
problem. England demanded a formal apology but Sorokin
refused, saying his comments in a Russian newspaper were
mistranslated.

While FIFA said Wednesday it was studying the situation,
former FIFA vice president Vyacheslav Koloskov added to the
controversy.

"It`s a comical situation. The English are afraid of how
badly their bid is going," Koloskov was quoted as saying on
the Russian online paper championat.ru. "There is no reason
for Russia to fear sanctions. There won`t even be an
investigation. The behavior of the English is absolutely
primitive. Instead of talking about their own advantages and
merits, they try to disorient their rivals."

Scandals and surreptitious deals, however, are nothing
new to FIFA and its executives.

In the vote for the 2006 World Cup, which Blatter
desperately wanted to go to South Africa, Oceania Football
Confederation President Charlie Dempsey abstained, giving
Germany a one-vote win.

The Scottish-born Dempsey, who died in 2008 at age 86,
never disclosed why he abstained. But in reaction, Blatter
decided to create a rotation system, moving the World Cup from
continent to continent. First up, unsurprisingly considering
the outcome of the 2006 vote, was Africa in 2010.

The rotation continued through the next vote, and Brazil
was given the right to host the tournament in 2014 - becoming
the first country from South America to host the event since
Argentina in 1978.

Following that, for reasons never clearly explained, FIFA
scrapped the rotation system - hence the disparaging comments
coming from rival bids this year.

But even this year`s vote caused a stir when FIFA
announced that countries could bid for both the 2018 and 2022
World Cups at the same time. Over months of campaigning, every
European bidder withdrew from the 2022 vote, and every
non-European bidder withdrew from consideration from 2018.

One might call that collusion.

Previously, the biggest corruption scandal FIFA faced was
in 2001 when marketing partner ISL/ISMM went bankrupt amid
allegations of bribery, plunging the football body into a
financial crisis. That fueled accusations that Blatter and
other sports administrators were being bribed by the company.

Blatter had his answer ready, albeit with an admission
that corruption was at least possible in his organization.

"Never have I tried to corrupt anyone else and I am not
corruptible," Blatter said. "I can tell you that in the 26
years I have spent at FIFA, attempts have been made to bribe
me or to influence me in some form ... but never ever have I
bribed anyone and I cannot be bribed."

The FIFA Finance Committee began to investigate
corruption allegations within the FIFA ranks following the
collapse of ISL/ISMM, but Blatter suspended the probe in 2002
- again for reasons unknown.

Ahead of the 2006 World Cup, credit company MasterCard
tried to prevent FIFA from signing Visa as a sponsor for the
2010 and 2014 World Cups. MasterCard took FIFA to court and
settled for USD 90 million.

U.S. District Judge Loretta A. Preska said in late 2006
that although FIFA`s slogan is "fair play," its dealing "with
FIFA`s long-standing `partner` MasterCard constitutes the
opposite of `fair play` and violates FIFA`s own requirement
that `its negotiators deal honorably with its business
partners."`

Also, FIFA vice president Jack Warner was embroiled in a
scandal around the 2006 World Cup for selling tickets at
inflated prices through a travel agency owned by his family.
FIFA cleared him of any wrongdoing but demanded that his son
pay a fine of nearly USD 1 million.

FIFA, which earns about 90 percent of its income from the
World Cup and has a fancy new stone-and-glass headquarters in
the hills above Zurich, has gone to great lengths to shift the
focus to other topics, like the football academies it has set
up in developing nations.

But corruption allegations continue to hound its golden
goose - the World Cup - and no country yet has the gumption to
take on FIFA.

"I don`t think any European or international politician
has really taken up the mantle and said something needs to be
done," Hill said. "The natural countries that would do it are
trying to bid for the World Cup."

Bureau Report