How Did We Get It So Wrong?
As an application to hold the 2018 World Cup in England the bid had everything. The infrastructure was judged by the FIFA Committee to be far and away the best of all the bidding countries.
The stadiums, the transport, the facilities, the legacy. It scored straight tens wherever one looked. Every box got a tick.
A P.R. charm offensive headed by the charismatic double act of David Beckham and Prince William with additional input from Prime Minister Cameron. Surely his political antenna would have kept him well away from Zurich if there had been the slightest hint of failure ?
With the news that Vladimir Putin had stayed sulking in Russia muttering darkly about hostile plots designed to scupper his country’s bid, many believed it was a done deal. Indeed it was but not for England.
In truth the question as to who would win the right to host the World Cups for 2018 and 2022 had been resolved long before the delegates gathered this week in Zurich. The first indication I received from FIFA insiders that the winners were Russia and Qatar respectively, came in October. That was followed in early November with a firm confirmation of the results, some five weeks before the vote charade took place, and well before the Sunday Times and Panorama came to the party. Their contributions had not the slightest affect upon the result but they did present Blatter, the FIFA voting committee and those in search of scapegoats with some useful whipping boys.
To ask, as many now are doing “Was foul play at work in Zurich this week?” is on a par with the hoary question “Is the Pope a Catholic?”
Consider Qatar, one of the very few countries to emerge from Fifa’s evaluation reports with their chances of success in tatters. Putting aside the various recent scandals that had damaged their bid, there was the location and the weather to consider. World class football matches do not usually take place in temperatures approaching forty to fifty degrees Celsius.
For Qatar to succeed would in theory be against all the odds. Why then, well before the vote were bookmakers William Hill quoting odds of four to nine on for Qatar to be awarded the 2022 World Cup? Perhaps they had access to my FIFA contacts? Or perhaps they had chanced to read my book How They Stole the Game? The book is an investigation of the life and times of FIFA President Dr Joao Havelange and the election of his successor Sep Blatter who attempted unsuccessfully in a number of countries to have the book banned.
What follows illustrates why this week the English bid never for a moment stood a chance of succeeding. We can continue to do the decent thing and compete fairly and honestly to hold the World Cup Competition in England. We can cling to the remnants of another era where the game was the thing and playing by the rules was all important or we can take a different, darker, course of action.
The book records various aspects of Blatter’s 1998 campaign for election to Presidency as the Paris Congress of June 98 grew nearer. Blatter had only declared his candidacy a mere four months before the election. On the face of he had a formidable mountain to climb. By early 1998 the only other contender Lennart Johansson of Sweden had developed a momentum that was unstoppable.
.He had a clear run of the electoral field and had impressed many with his policies, his vision and perhaps most of all, with his quite obvious transparent honesty. He was not seen as particularly charismatic, indeed some saw him as dull, but after twenty four years of the charismatic Havelange, this was not necessarily a disadvantage.
In December 1997, months before Blatter’s declaration that he was a contender he made a secret visit to Qatar where he had a meeting with the ruler of the country Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifaal-Than. When the meeting concluded the General Secretary of FIFA had an additional wealthy backer whose generosity included putting his personal aeroplane at Blatter’s disposal. The Emir also ordered his relations who controlled and ran Qatar’s Football Association to do everything in their power to assist Blatter’s election.
What follows is taken verbatim from my book.
“It developed into a two-pronged infiltration. They began to pick up votes both from the African Confederation and from Asia. Qatar’s FIFA delegate Mohamad Bin Hammam, who sits on the key FIFA Finance Committee, had an additional task. As the country’sdelegate to Paris he could mix freely with the other delegates without attracting undue attention.
That weekend, Paris was full of rumours - of deals being cut, of favours being called in. Arenas like this are the real power-centres where the ultimate vote is decided.
Blatter had a junior suite in the Meridien Hotel in Paris It was also where a great many of the delegates were staying. In the days leading up to the FIFA Congress Hammam functioned as procurer for Blatter.
Positioning himself down in the lobby of the hotel, Hammam collared the delegates as they came and went. He extolled the virtues of Sepp Blatter. If he felt the delegates’ attention was wandering, Hammam talked of money. Allegedly he talked of offering $50,000 per vote. The fatigue of the day lifted and the delegates began to move towards the bar with a spring in their step.
Some of Blatter’s supporters had begun to panic on the Saturday prior to the Monday vote. They were convinced that Lennart Johansson still held the majority. According to the rumours it was at this stage that money and very little else was discussed. A number of delegates remained sceptical. How did they know that Hammam could be trusted? Under the circumstances, an appropriate question.
An undertaking was given that if Blatter was duly elected, courtesy of the Emir a plane would immediately leave Qatar with $1 million onboard. First stop Paris. The delegates were assured that they could then go to Hammam and collect their fifty thousand. The figure of one million is not without significance. Between fifteen and twenty delegates were persuaded to exchange the white envelope containing their vote for another containing $50,000. If all of the Emir’s million dollars went in this manner, then the missing twenty votes from Lenhart Johansson’s tally were accounted for.
Blatter himself would later assert that he knew nothing whatsoever about these arrangements. He has always vigorously and indeed furiously denied any knowledge of these various activities. The newly elected President Blatter confirmed that money had indeed changed hands, but the only payments that he was aware of concerned arrangements made earlier that year in which financial
Assistance had been offered to a wide variety of national Associations. The monies in question were designated for a variety of uses - to buy cars, to purchase computers, to finance competitions and other official activities… Quite an extraordinary situation appears to have occurred that weekend in Paris. Simultaneously with FIFA funds being officially handed out to delegates, other payments were being made to directly influence votes. The evidence that this latter activity took place has come to me from a variety of sources, including individuals within UEFA and others within the African Football Association.
This tactic, plus the political channels that were activated, swung it for Blatter. Thus the power of Asian and African Confederations was neutered and democracy was prostituted in the pursuit of the FIFA Presidency. Nothing has changed since the early 1970’s when Joao Havelange bought himself the most powerful position in the world of football."
The above is an example of the darker side of FIFA that many have embraced. I would rather that England and other countries who continue to reject such methods resign from the filth that is awash within FIFA.
In 2009 yet another meeting between the Emir of Qatar,Sepp Blatter and Mohamad Bin Hamman took place. Blatter wished to ensure that he did not face Hammam in a contest for the Presidency in 2011. A deal was cut. Hammam promised not to stand and Blatter promised he would deliver the 2022 World Cup to Quatar. Earlier this week President Blatter delivered.
© David Yallop 4th December 2010