Does Anyone Believe FIFA?
There must be someone, somewhere, who believes the FIFA take on the Qatari World Cup debacle. I am not sure who they are or where they live: presumably some gentle, naïve soul who sheltered from the world lives peaceably herding yaks in Mongolia or is cut off from communication in a distant Himalayan valley. For the rest of us, however, today’s release of a synopsis of the ‘Garcia Report’ into allegations of possible bribes connected with the Qatari bid for the 2022 World Cup is just another example of the FIFA’s breathtaking lack of credibility.
Strangely, it was a Canadian woman: Alexandra Wrage. She was the Toronto lawyer who was invited into FIFA as an independent expert on anti-corruption. In true female Canadian-style, Wrage took absolutely no nonsense. She came, she saw, she left. Stating for the public record that FIFA was an old-boys club whose rules would never change, short of a major revolution, and that she had no desire to lose her reputation working for such an institution.
Her words must be burning in the frontal lobe of the one clear loser in this mess (aside from international sport) – Michael Garcia. You have to feel sorry for the poor man. Before he came into FIFA, he had the reputation as a tough legal eagle. While inside FIFA he tried to play fair. The officials there nodded, smiled and then chewed Garcia up and spat him out. At best, he looks a neutered, intellectual eunuch. At worst, Garcia looks like a dim twit who was nice to a bunch of people who ate him for breakfast. Either way, his professional reputation has taken a massive hit. It is difficult to think Garcia will ever fully recover from his short involvement with FIFA.
Sadly, much of the synopsis of his report does much the same to anyone decent enough to try and do the right thing. Two whistleblowers are singled out for particular blame. Mohammed bin Hammam – one of the key leaders of Qatari (and Asian) football at the time of the bid – is treated as if he had absolutely no influence in the winning bid. The English bid team who shamefully trucked up to Jack Warner are castigated (rightly so). The winning Russian bid team whose computer records were unavailable to investigators are not.
Here is what is going on. Years ago, I met a FIFA insider who was deeply concerned about the way his organization was governing world football. He summed up the calculation at the heart of FIFA, “All these scandals are ignored by the leaders, because they know that when the average fan goes into the stadium and they see the twenty-two players on a bright-green grass pitch they forget about everything else.”
P.S. One bright spot in this mess is there is a very good series of stories written by the Sunday Times Insight Team (along with Andrew Jennings) that cast more light on the Qatari/FIFA mess than any official report. They appeared in June of 2014 but are still worth the read.