Tuesday 16 January 2018

FA boss admits proposed Thailand friendly was a 'form of bribery' in 2018 bidding race

FIFA Vice-President Geoff Thompson speaks during the 64th FIFA Congress at the Transamerica Expo Center on June 11, 2014 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (Photo by Stuart Franklin - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)
FIFA Vice-President Geoff Thompson speaks during the 64th FIFA Congress at the Transamerica Expo Center on June 11, 2014 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (Photo by Stuart Franklin - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Matt Slater

Former FA chairman Geoff Thompson told FIFA ethics investigators that a plan for England to play a friendly in Thailand in order to secure a vote in the bidding race for the 2018 World Cup was "a form of bribery".

Thompson's frank admission was made in 2014 to an investigation - led by American lawyer Michael Garcia - into the notorious December 2010 vote to decide the hosts for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

Before this week, only a 42-page summary of Garcia's work by FIFA ethics judge Hans-Joachim Eckert released in November 2014 had been made available. Garcia disowned this summary at the time and quit his role with world football's governing body.

But on Monday, German newspaper Bild announced it had obtained a copy of Garcia's full report and started releasing extracts, only for FIFA to surprise everybody by publishing the entire, 422-page dossier on its website on Tuesday.

While the successful bids of Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022, in particular, have attracted the most interest from anti-corruption campaigners, investigative journalists and, more recently, law enforcement agencies, arguably the most embarrassing criticisms in Garcia's report are reserved for the two biggest losers: Australia and England.

Both bids are strongly criticised for breaching bidding rules and FIFA's ethics code in their attempts to "curry favour" with the 24 voters on the FIFA executive committee (ExCo).

This, however, is a result of both these bids giving Garcia their full co-operation and answering his team's questions honestly, as he acknowledges.

This is in stark contrast to the likes of the bids from Spain/Portugal and Russia, which claimed to have destroyed or lost most of the relevant evidence, and the vast majority of ExCo members, who either ignored or tried to mislead Garcia.

None of this, though, excuses the clumsy and misguided attempts of the England 2018 bid committee to influence ExCo voters.

For example, in a clear breach of bidding rules, eight days before the 2018/2022 vote, the FA agreed to a request from ExCo member Worawi Makudi for England to visit his country for a friendly in June 2011.

Makudi, a former Thai FA president, was also granted his request for the TV rights to the game everywhere except the UK, with the FA also agreeing to pay a larger chunk of the match expenses than was usual.

But several senior FA officials were deeply uneasy about this idea, not least because there was no footballing justification for a match between the then sixth-ranked England and 129th-ranked Thailand.

Speaking to Garcia in 2014, Thompson, who also chaired the bid from May 2010, said he "didn't think it was appropriate" to organise friendlies with countries represented on the ExCo "because...it's a form of bribery".

This view was supported by the FA's acting chairman at the time, Roger Burden, who told Garcia he was against the friendly because "there was an argument (England 2018) might not have been a clean bid".

Like so many of the English bid's rather amateurish schemes, Makudi voted for Spain/Portugal, as widely predicted, England lost in the first round and the match was cancelled three weeks later. As a postscript, FIFA banned Makudi in 2016 from all football activities for five years.

Garcia's report goes into even more detail on the attempts England 2018 made to gain ex-FIFA vice-president Jack Warner's bloc of CONCACAF votes.

Currently facing extradition from his native Trinidad to the United States on football-related money-laundering charges, Warner was given a life ban by FIFA in 2015.

England 2018, however, unwisely decided to agree to a staggering set of demands from Warner in the build-up to the 2010 vote.

These included getting the bid team to find his "adopted son" Richard Sebro, a man with no obvious football credentials, a job with Tottenham, then at Wembley, before moving to Aston Villa.

Other favours granted to Warner were the waiving of a £168,000 debt owed to the FA by the Jamaican Football Federation and the sponsorship of a £36,000 Caribbean Football Union gala dinner, while undisclosed "favours and benefits" were granted by the FA to a team Warner owned - Joe Public Football Club.

In conclusion, the Garcia report said: "In many cases England 2018 accommodated or at least attempted to satisfy the improper requests made by these executive committee members.

"While the bidding process itself, and the attitude of entitlement and expectation demonstrated by certain members in the exchanges, place the bid team in a difficult position, that fact does not excuse all of the conduct."

Meanwhile, Richard Caborn said the report made "sad reading" on Wednesday.

Caborn, minister of sport from 2001 to 2007 and appointed by Gordon Brown as the ambassador for England's bid to host the tournament in 2018, told BBC Radio 5 live: ''It makes very sad reading and is a sad reflection on the bid team, there's no doubt about that.

'I think lessons have been learned and if we were in this position to bid now we would have a much more professional, transparent and accountable approach to that.''

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