Friday, 19 December 2014

I am What I am - Sepp Blatter

Fifa has agreed to publish a redacted version of Michael Garcia’s full report into the controversial 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding process in an attempt to quell another round of trenchant criticism of world football’s perennially under-fire governing body.

As Fifa president Sepp Blatter declared the latest crisis over and insisted “we have always been determined that the truth should be known”, he simultaneously ruled out a re-vote for the 2018 World Cup in Russia or the 2022 tournament in Qatar.

“There is no reason to say that our decisions were wrong. So we will go on sticking to our decisions,” said Blatter following a meeting of the executive committee in Marrakech at which it was agreed unanimously, though without a formal vote, to publish an “appropriate” version of Garcia’s report.

“We will not revisit the 2018 and 2022 vote and a report by independent, external legal experts supports the view that there are no legal grounds to revoke the executive committee’s decision on the award of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups,” he added.

Expert legal advice sought by Domenico Scala, the head of Fifa’s audit committee whose responsibility it was to resolve the row over Garcia’s report, said it was clear “the irregularities determined thus far are not of an extent that would lead to the bidding process as a whole being qualified as significantly illegal”.

Without “huge upheaval” or a “new element” coming to the fore, Blatter said that the verdict of Judge Hans-Joachim Eckert – who produced the disputed summary of Garcia’s report that precipitated his resignation – that neither Qatar nor Russia had seriously broken the rules would stand.

Around half the 22 voting members of the Fifa executive committee who voted in December 2010 have since left the organisation, many with a cloud of corruption allegations trailing in their wake, and even Eckert’s summary highlighted a host of still unanswered questions.

Amid a flurry of familiar Blatter-isms, the 78-year-old declared “I am what I am” and said that the split in the Fifa executive committee over whether to publish Garcia’s report had been resolved. “We have been in a crisis. The crisis has stopped because we again have the unity in our government,” he said.

At the same meeting, Fifa decided that a ban on third-party ownership of players - which could have huge ramifications for football in Portugal, Spain and South America – would be introduced in May 2015. It also said that the controversy over the timing of the Qatar 2022 World Cup, most likely to be moved to November to avoid the summer heat, would be resolved at its next meeting in March.

Blatter said work was also already underway on drawing up a new framework for World Cup bidding, which would incorporate new rules designed to bring some order to a process that rapidly spiralled out of control in the run-up to the dual vote in December 2010. He said the changes would mean “everyone can be confident that the 2026 bidding process will be fair, ethical and open”.

Scala revealed that Garcia’s full 430-page report recommended tightening the rules on gifts, friendly matches and football development investment outside the host country, as well as ensuring that only one World Cup was ever decided at a time. Sources said that Scala, who had been given the task of deciding how much of the report the board should see, recommended it be released in a “legally appropriate form” and that there was agreement around the table. He did not update them further on what is actually contained in the full report and no vote was taken.

However, it remains to be seen how heavily redacted the report will be when it eventually sees the light of day. The identities of all of the 75-plus witnesses are likely to be obscured, unless they agree to waive their right to confidentiality. “It is clear that while a summary of the report was issued, the publication of this report has become a barrier to rebuilding public confidence and trust in Fifa,” said Blatter, who had initially opposed its release.

The decision was made two days after Garcia dramatically resigned as head of the investigatory arm of the ethics committee in disgust at the way the release of his report had been handled. Blatter confirmed that the former US attorney for the southern district of New York would be replaced as head of the investigatory arm of the ethics committee by his deputy Cornel Borbely.

Garcia was furious that a 42-page summary of his 430-page report prepared by Eckert, the head of the adjudicatory arm of the ethics committee, had, as he put it, misrepresented his findings. Garcia spent 18 months and £6m gathering evidence before Eckert effectively cleared the 2018 host Russia and 2022 host Qatar of serious wrongdoing.

Without the power to compel corrupt former Fifa executives no longer in football to talk and the inability to seize evidence, the former US attorney for the southern district of New York was reliant on witnesses co-operating. The Russians said all emails relating to their 2018 bid had been lost and another of Garcia’s recommendations for future bids is that all records are retained for inspection and audit.

Garcia opened investigations into the conduct of five individuals during the bidding process including three current executive committee members – √Ă…ngel Mar√-a Villar Llona of Spain, Belgium’s Michel D’Hooghe and Thailand’s Wowari Makudi – and one former member, the German Franz Beckenbauer.

The “appropriate” version of Garcia’s full report, which the investigator said this week had “identified serious and wide-ranging issues with the bidding and selection process”, won’t be released until those individual cases are complete.

But that also raises the possibility of Blatter being able to time the conclusion of those investigations and the subsequent release of the redacted Garcia report to best suit his purposes as he prepares to stand for another four years as president next April, despite having previously insisted his current term would be his last.

“It is not my duty to evaluate myself. If you claim that I am a weak leader, then kindly ask the members of the executive committee,” he said. “This about weak leadership, let’s leave that aside. I am what I am.”

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