Saturday, January 26, 2013

FIFA Investigating Itself over 2018/2022 WCF Bidding Process

FIFA noted this week that its Ethics Prosecutor, Michael Garcia, will be investigating the allegations of corruption in the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding contests.

In a statement released by FIFA, Garcia said he "intends to conduct a thorough review of those allegations, including the evidentiary basis for and credibility of any allegations of individual misconduct."

I can already tell you what his findings will be. There is insufficient evidence of any irregularities. The allegations have no basis in fact and are the result purely of English and American media bias and sour grapes. No further action will be taken. Case closed.

And it's possible that such a finding would be accurate.

The problem is that observers are now so aware of the numerous other corruption scandals that FIFA has been embroiled in that the organisation has absolutely no credibility.

An independent, third party investigation is needed.

Also, changes need to be made to the bidding process.

The first thing I would do would be develop a scoring rubric and release it to potential bidders  at the time bids are asked for. It would clearly state how the winning bid would be selected and what weight is being given to each aspect of the bids (stadiums, mass transport systems, environmental concerns, accommodation, training facilities, media infrastructure, human rights, legacy, climate, geographical location, fan experience, the ability to host in June/July, etc.)

Such a system would stop countries such as England or the United States concentrating on technical bids, and being unsuccessful when it turns out that geographical location is the prime concern.

Secondly, the FIFA ExCo should not be the people determining which bid is successful. I would instead pick a very large panel of independent experts from across the globe each capable of evaluating one aspect of the bid and have them each score the bids on their area of expertise. The final scores could then be calculated and the winning bid announced.

The current system is far too open to abuse. Having a relatively small panel of 24 ExCo members picking the winners is to invite corruption, especially when so many of them have been in positions of power for decades. There are too many favours owed and grievances remembered and conflicts of interests for the process to be fair and transparent.

Way back when Germany was awarded the 2006 World Cup Finals, ExCo member Charlie Dempsey abstained from voting because of the pressure placed on him by bidding countries at the time of the vote. One must assume this included bribes and/or threats. Dempsey had announced he would vote for the English bid until England was eliminated, at which point he would consider his options. But once England was out of the running, Dempsey was under so much 'pressure' he fled home to New Zealand, thus abstaining from voting and in the process allowing Germany to beat South Africa by one vote.

There is no reason to believe that the 'pressures' are any less now.

And given the number of current and recent FIFA officials involved in controversy over the past few years, I have little confidence that all of the ExCo members can conduct a clean vote.

And neither do I have confidence that an investigation of the 2018/2022 process, undertaken by a FIFA insider, will be capable of allaying public suspicion should the outcome be similar to what I predicted above.