Russia, Qatar World Cups Bids May Face Probe, FIFA Adviser Says

Soccer’s new investigative body will probably examine the bids that won Russia and Qatar World Cup hosting rights once a head is appointed for the independent committee, according to the former U.K. attorney general advising FIFA on reform.

The race to stage the 2018 and 2022 editions of the $5 billion World Cup drew attention to weaknesses in FIFA’s internal governance procedures after several members of its decision-making board were accused of wrongdoing.

“It does need to be looked into,” Peter Goldsmith, a partner at law firm Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, said in an interview. “The point is if you have a proper investigative body with a professional, independent head, that person could look at these things. That’s what I expect to happen.”

Goldsmith is a member of 13-person panel assembled and headed by Swiss law professor Mark Pieth. FIFA president Sepp Blatter asked the group to find ways that his 108-year-old organization could modernize. The call came following rebukes from governments and sponsors who pay millions of dollars to the Zurich-based body.

Russia beat England and joint bids from Spain/Portugal and Belgium/the Netherlands to host soccer’s four-yearly championship in 2018. Qatar, a country smaller than Connecticut, was chosen ahead of bids from the U.S., Australia, South Korea and Japan to host the following World Cup. The decisions came six months before Blatter was re-elected to a fourth, four-year term after his only challenger withdrew a day before being investigated for allegedly bribing Caribbean voters.

Decisions Deferred

FIFA last week agreed to some changes, including the appointment of the first woman on its board and establishing investigative and adjudicatory bodies to tackle wrongdoing, at its annual congress in Budapest. Pieth asked the group not to “cherry pick” the easiest moves.

Issues including the introduction of term limits and integrity checks for officials, publication of executive pay and the creation of a whistle-blower hot line have been deferred to next year’s congress in Mauritius.

FIFA was also unable to name the first independent chairmen of its two new ethics bodies because one of the nominees chosen by Pieth’s group was ill. The announcement will be made in July when the board next meets.

Pressure must be put on FIFA to ensure it chooses suitable candidates as soon as possible and they should be be globally known and respected, Goldsmith said.

Reputation Risk

“Put someone in place who has an international reputation to lose if people can see they’re not doing their job,” he said.

Only 22 of FIFA’s 24 board members voted for the award of World Cup hosting rights because two were suspended after offering their votes to undercover reporters. Allegations of malfeasance have since been leveled at other officials. A former vice president accused of setting up a meeting where Blatter’s presidential rival Mohamed Bin Hammam was accused of offering bribes quit, and FIFA stopped an investigation into his role.

FIFA said it made nearly $1 billion in sales last year and has the same amount in its cash reserves, while television and marketing deals for the 2018 World Cup already amount to $2.3 billion. The financial success led some members of Blatter’s board like Spaniard Angel Maria Villar Llona to accuse FIFA’s critics of jealousy.

“We met with Sepp Blatter, saying to him: ‘Look you’ve done fantastically financially, it’s a fantastically successful organization financially but is that what you want your legacy to be, just to make more money?,’” Goldsmith said. “‘You leave behind all this scandal.’”

Final Term

Blatter, 76, has said his current term will be his last.

By the time he leaves office in 2015, FIFA will be a different place whether Blatter and his board embrace reform or not, Goldsmith said.

“If FIFA doesn’t do this now I cannot believe there will not be huge pressure for it to be done from outside,” he said. “That will be much worse from FIFA’s point of view.”

Goldsmith called for countries to demand better oversight from the Swiss government on organizations located in the country and suggested U.K. and U.S. anti-corruption legislation could be brought to bear on the soccer body.

Goldsmith said he expects investigations into allegations stretching back as long as a decade ago.

“Everyone knows there’s been corruption inside FIFA,” he said. “There’s a statute of limitations of 10 years for most things but otherwise there shouldn’t be any impediment for a new investigative body to look at things which happened in the past and properly get into them.”

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