Sport Soccer

Friday 23 March 2018

Tommy Conlon: Culture of expectation alive and well among football's galactico blazers

The Couch

Michael Garcia. Photo: Getty Images
Michael Garcia. Photo: Getty Images

Tommy Conlon

They were generous in Japan when it came to handing out gifts as part of their bidding process for the 2022 World Cup. But, unfortunately for them, the conclave of visiting FIFA grandees could not be swayed by the trifles and trinkets that were laid before them in Tokyo. In the heel of the reel, these venerable ambassadors, these incorruptible guardians of the global game, gave the gig to Qatar.

Sadly for the Japanese, not even a yakusugi ball was going to cut it. A yakasugi ball is made from native cedar wood. This is one of the many delicious details to be found in Michael Garcia's lengthy report on the campaigns among various countries for the right to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cup finals.

Garcia is an American judge. In 2012, FIFA appointed him chairman of the "investigatory chamber" of their Ethics Committee. In September 2014, he delivered his report. Last week the German newspaper Bild revealed it had a copy of the report, whereupon FIFA decided to publish it on its own website.

The top line is that Garcia failed to find the much-anticipated "smoking gun" that would irrefutably establish corruption on the part of Russia and Qatar. The investigation into Russia's 2018 bid was somewhat hampered by the non-availability of the computers used by its bid committee in the years leading up to December 2010, when the winners were revealed to a disbelieving world. The computers had apparently been destroyed and, with them, thousands of emails that might have been pertinent to the investigation.

Nevertheless, the report found enough evidence of malpractice to recommend formal investigative proceedings against past and present members of FIFA's Executive Committee (Exco), that sacred inner circle of galactico blazers. In so doing, it re-introduces us to many of our old friends from the golden era of FIFA's ruling junta: Jack Warner, Ricardo Teixeira, Nicolas Leoz, Mohamed Bin Hammam and, of course, the grand wizard himself, Sepp Blatter, who was finally forced from office in December 2015.

If it was a rather undignified end to his glorious reign, Sepp would at least get to spend more time fondling his perfectly-formed yakasugi ball. It was valued by the report at a mere $1,200. Other Exco luminaries to leave Japan with said ball in their luggage included Michel Platini and Franz Beckenbauer. Digital cameras worth $1,200 and pendants ($1,000) were also divvied out. And not forgetting the ladies, their hosts also gifted Exco members' wives with a clutch bag, made by a "Japanese traditional handcraft master" and valued at $2,000 each.

Another FIFA supremo was not quite as lucky with his gifts. Media reports in 2011 had speculated rather excitedly that Dr Michel D'Hooghe from Belgium had been given a priceless painting from the Russian bid committee. He and Viacheslav Koloskov had been old FIFA buddies from way back. They and their wives had met for lunch at a restaurant in Bruges in April 2010. According to the good doctor's evidence, Koloskov was accompanied by "his interpreter".

After their excellent lunch, Koloskov handed D'Hooghe "a flat parcel, wrapped up in brown cardboard paper". This was the "priceless" art work, rumoured in some quarters to be "a Picasso". When he opened it at home, he was underwhelmed. "With all the respect I owe to Russian art, I must confess that I did not like the painting at all." He even offered this "ugly and worthless" artefact to his secretary - but she didn't want it either.

Then the furore erupted so he had to get it valued by a Russian art specialist who confirmed it had no monetary value. It was painted on cardboard and the artist was unknown to the specialist. For D'Hooghe it had been a "poisonous gift".

But there is a rather piquant twist in the tail. According to the Garcia report, the man that D'Hooghe described in his evidence as Koloskov's "interpreter" turned out to be Alexey Sorokin, the CEO of the Russian bid team.

Meanwhile, in Qatar, plans were afoot to host a Brazil v Argentina friendly in November 2010. Teixeira was still president of the Brazilian Football Confederation. Ricardo's personal terms and conditions for his four-night stay in Doha included the presidential suite at the Four Seasons Hotel at a cost of 20,000 Qatari Riyals ($5,490) per night.

"In contrast," reports Garcia, "the football players Lionel Messi and Robinho stayed in rooms with nightly rates of 1,100 QAR and 650 QAR, respectively." In addition, "assorted chauffeured luxury cars transported Mr Teixeira around Doha, and a chauffeured S-Class Mercedes was provided specifically for Mr Teixeira's wife."

Ricardo's hotel bill in total came to an estimated $23,900. It was footed by the Qatar 2020 bid committee.

In passages like this, Garcia's report reads more like a Hello! spread on the lifestyles of the rich and powerful. Mostly it reads like a complex spaghetti junction of facts and figures, with a cast of thousands and hundreds of businesses, agents, fixers and insiders - all with their noses in the platinum trough of corporate sport.

"Many of the flaws in the bidding process this Report identified," he concludes, "were traceable to an Executive Committee culture of expectation and entitlement."

No surprise there. But it looks like there's no turning back now. Russia and Qatar it will be. The palatial hotels of Moscow and Doha will see a few handcrafted Japanese clutch bags before it's all over.

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