FIFA Backs Members as Qatar Whistleblower Retracts Graft Claims

Soccer’s governing body said today it will back board members accused of corruption unless it gets proof of wrongdoing after an ex-worker from Qatar’s successful 2022 World Cup bid retracted claims that the country bribed officials.

FIFA confirmed receiving an e-mail from Phaedra Almajid, who was replaced as Qatar’s international media officer partway through the process that ended with FIFA choosing it over rivals including the U.S. and Australia.

“When only allegations are made and no evidence is given, FIFA always stands firmly by its members,” FIFA said in a statement today. Almajid had said African Football Confederation president Issa Hayatou, Ivory Coast FIFA member Jacques Anouma and Nigeria’s suspended official Amos Adamu were paid $1.5 million to vote for Qatar. They’ve denied wrongdoing and she apologized to them.

In a statement released yesterday Almajid, a U.S. citizen, said she “lied about all facts concerning the behavior and practice of the Qatar 2022 Bid” and the accusations “were in full a fabrication on my behalf.”

Qatar’s organizing committee hasn’t commented on Almajid’s apology. Almajid pulled out of a planned meeting with FIFA in May after the Zurich-based organization refused to agree to demands including “an unlimited witness protection program.”

The claims were reported by the Sunday Times newspaper and also presented to U.K. lawmakers, who used it in writing a report about the World Cup bidding process. England finished last of four bidders for the 2018 event while FIFA faced graft allegations. Two of FIFA’s 24-member executive committee, Adamu and Reynald Temarii of Tahiti, were suspended after an internal inquiry heard evidence of vote-buying.

Natural-Gas Billions

Qatar, whose bid was fueled by the billions of dollars it generates as the world’s biggest supplier of liquefied natural gas, was a surprise winner of the Dec. 2 ballot. It’s proposing to stage the 32-team competition in 12 stadiums in an area smaller than Connecticut, the U.S.’s third-smallest state. The bid also promised to develop air-cooling technology to protect players and fans from the effects of temperatures that can get higher than 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit).

FIFA struggled with graft accusations surrounding the World Cup and its presidential election. June’s vote ended with President Sepp Blatter winning a fourth term. His only challenger, Mohamed Bin Hammam of Qatar, who headed Asia’s soccer federation, was suspended after claims he paid $40,000 to voters in the Caribbean to choose him. He denies the allegations.

FIFA last month said its general secretary Jerome Valcke wouldn’t face an internal probe after a private e-mail he sent that said Qatar “bought” the World Cup was made public. He said he meant Qataris used funds to “heavily promote their bid all around the world in a very efficient manner.”

In her statement Almajid said her retraction had nothing to do with Qatar’s bid committee.

“I also wish to state that the decision to make this admission is entirely my own,” she said. “I have not been subject to any form of pressure or been offered any financial inducement to do so.”

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