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World News
FIFA Agrees to Limited Publication of Hosting Rights Report
From the Wall Street Journal of Fri, 19 Dec 2014 10:34:53 EST
FIFA president Sepp Blatter on Friday.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter on Friday. European Pressphoto Agency

MARRAKESH, Morocco—Soccer’s world governing body agreed on Friday to limited publication of the findings of its independent investigator into the awarding of hosting rights for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, just two days after that investigator resigned in protest of FIFA’s secrecy. FIFA also insisted that any discussion of a revote on whether Russia and Qatar would host those tournaments remained closed.

The 430-page report, produced by former U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia, has been one of the most closely guarded secrets in soccer ever since he submitted it in late summer.

In recent months, the fate of that report, which details what it says is ethical wrongdoing by bid committees and scathing criticism of FIFA’s Executive Committee, has been the subject of legal wrangling within the organization. The 2018 and 2022 hosting rights were awarded in a December 2010 vote by the Executive Committee.

Frustrated with how it was handled, Garcia resigned from his post as chief investigator on Wednesday. He was replaced by his deputy, the Zurich-based Swiss lawyer Cornel Borbély.

Exactly how limited the “appropriate” publication, as FIFA called it, will be remains uncertain. But FIFA said the measure was unanimously approved by the Executive Committee after an animated debate, despite the fact that several of its members are currently under investigation for ethical violations. Scala said that he had handed over the report to two independent legal experts for review.

“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,” FIFA President Sepp Blatter said in a statement. “Part of this is due to the fact that we have been deliberate in the way that we have moved through the process. We need to ensure that we respect the rules of our organization and that we don't breach confidentiality in a way that will prevent people from speaking out in the future.”

In FIFA’s first widely criticized attempt to publish some of those findings in a November summary by its chief adjudicator, Hans-Joachim Eckert, the 42-page end product was so different from the original report, Garcia said, that he felt the need to appeal it. The Eckert summary found some wrongdoing by certain individuals but not enough to compromise the overall process.

Garcia and Eckert didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.

In an attempt to resolve their differences, both versions of the report were turned over to FIFA’s audit and compliance chief, Domenico Scala. In a statement released Friday, he said that the differences were “due to the fact that the [Eckert] statement was a summarizing document that, by its very nature, entailed making significant abridgments to and omissions from the [Garcia] reference document.”

Based on the findings in the report, nearly a dozen ethical cases have been opened at FIFA. Those include proceedings against three sitting members of the Executive Committee— Angel Maria Villar Llonas of Spain, Michel D’Hooghe of Belgium, and Worawi Makudi of Thailand. Franz Beckenbauer, a former committee member, and Harold Mayne-Nicholls, the FIFA inspector who evaluated the Qatari bid, also face ethics cases. All have denied wrongdoing.

Scala’s review prompted him to make several recommendations to reform the World Cup bidding process, echoing comments that were said to be in Garcia’s report. They focused on tightening regulation surrounding the organization of “football development projects” and exhibition matches by bidding nations—both are commonly used vehicles for currying favor in world soccer.

Scala also specified that “bid teams should be subject to a strict legal obligation to store all documents relating to their activities and to keep them available for FIFA for a specified period.” This appeared to be a veiled criticism of Russia’s bid committee, which failed to cooperate with Garcia’s investigation because its computers had been destroyed.

“We are already in the process of incorporating recommendations made by independent experts including the Ethics Committee for how the FIFA World Cup selection process can be improved so that everyone can be confident that the 2026 bidding process will be fair, ethical and open,” Blatter said.

Write to Joshua Robinson at joshua.robinson@wsj.com



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