May 30, 2011
FIFA hit by 'bought' World Cup claim
Accusations that Qatar bought the right to stage the 2022 World Cup deepened the corruption crisis at the heart of FIFA on Monday just as an apparently unscathed Sepp Blatter prepared to claim another term as president.
World soccer's governing body has been beset by accusations of bribery involving members of its inner circle of executive committee members ever since the vote to decide the hosts of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups took place in Zurich last December.
On Monday, the allegation that Qatar paid members for their votes sprang from the top, as a leaked email from the organization's general secretary Jerome Valcke making the claim was confirmed as genuine.
It came just two days before FIFA delegates are due to vote in the presidential election, with the 75-year-old Swiss Blatter now the only candidate and poised to extend his 13-year spell at the head of the world's richest and most popular sport.
The email, shown to Reuters by FIFA vice-president Jack Warner, referred to Qatar's Mohamed bin Hammam, who was at that time a candidate to stand against Blatter in the presidential election.
"For MBH, I never understood why he was running," Warner quoted the email from Valcke as saying. "If really he thought he had a chance or just being an extreme way to express how much he does not like anymore JSB (Blatter).
"Or he thought you can buy FIFA as they bought the WC (World Cup)."
Qatar denied the allegation while Bin Hammam said he had no idea why Valcke had made such a claim, which followed a steady drip of accusations about senior FIFA executives.
In total, 10 of the 24 members of the executive committee have been subject to allegations of corruption in the last year and yet Blatter appears to have been untouched by the controversy and calls for reform.
Blatter was cleared by a FIFA ethics committee on Sunday, while Bin Hammam, who had earlier pulled out of the election campaign, and Warner were provisionally suspended.
Blatter will now run unopposed in Wednesday's vote and can expect to win a fourth term at the head of an organization he has run since 1998, during which time it has become wealthy on the back of TV rights and sponsorship.
Blatter, who will address a news conference at 1600 GMT, has recently sought to distance himself from his executive committee, whose members are elected by their respective confederations rather than from within FIFA itself.
"I have no influence and I cannot take any responsibility," he said during the election campaign. "They have their own character and own conscience."
Blatter has faced down challenges to his position before, notably in 2002 when secretary general Michel Zen-Ruffinen claimed his 1998 election victory was based on bribery and corruption.
Blatter subsequently won re-election and Zen-Ruffinen was soon out of a job.
Five years later, he was elected unopposed for a third term. While the last six months have been the most turbulent of his reign, he is on course to get the fourth term he said during the campaign would be his last.
The recent problems stem from last year's World Cup votes, when Russia saw off opposition from England and joint-bids from Netherlands-Belgium and Spain-Portugal for 2018 and Qatar got the 2022 nod over Australia, Japan, South Korea and the United States.
On Monday, an Australian senator demanded a refund from FIFA on the $48.8 million the country spent on its bid for the 2022 World Cup.
The fear now for Qatar would be any sustained calls for the vote to be re-run.
Bin Hammam, who will not be allowed to attend the FIFA congress because of his suspension, dismissed the allegation that he had handed over money in exchange for votes.
"You would have to ask Jerome Valcke what he was thinking," he told the BBC. "If I was paying money from Qatar you would also have to ask the 13 people who voted for Qatar."
Valcke told reporters in Zurich on Monday he did send the email but that Warner had only published selected parts of it.
Earlier this month, Qatar's World Cup bid team strongly denied allegations, made by a British member of parliament, that it had paid two executive committee members to vote for the Gulf nation.
Questioned by reporters on Sunday, Valcke agreed that FIFA was facing "a watershed moment," drawing comparisons with the International Olympic Committee's crisis when IOC delegates were found guilty of taking bribes for votes to award the 2002 Winter Games to Salt Lake City.