Qatar 2022 Is In Real Trouble

In Sao Paolo last Thursday, FIFA Grand Gasbag Sepp Blatter was asked whether, in light of the emerging reams of evidence that the Qatar World Cup was bought and paid for, he thought the Executive Committee would reopen the bids and hold another vote.

 As we all know, people started asking this question roughly five minutes after the painfully, transparently and egregiously corrupt vote was first announced, and the answer, along with the conventional wisdom and the smart money, has always been the same:

No chance. Don't waste your time. Not gonna happen.

So it was something of a shock to everyone when, for the first time ever, he refused to endorse Qatar 2022, saying instead that "we must wait for the results of the investigation" and adding "I am not a prophet".

In truth, while no one has ever mistaken Blatter for Ezekiel, or even Nostradamus, he has always had a keen - even uncanny - talent for meteorology: he always knows which way the wind is blowing.

And it's becoming a gale.

Last week UEFA President and FIFA VP Michel Platini told L'Equipe in regards to Qatar that "If there is proof of corruption, it will take a new vote and sanctions", while another ExCo VP, Jim Boyce of Northern Ireland, has said repeatedly that if the evidence shows Qatar bought the thing, a re-vote is "absolutely" called for.

A do-over which Qatar cannot possibly win, in which case Australia, Japan and South Korea have all stated within the last 24 hours that they intend to re-submit their proposals.

(Silent Sunil has been - well, silent, as befits an ExCo member, but he has said in the past that before he would ever bother to submit another USSF World Cup bid he'd need to see some assurances that it wasn't rigged. He did not add "like last time". He didn't need to.)

If you want to get an early bet down, take Australia at 5-2, In truth most fans, both here and abroad, are long past caring where it goes; "anyplace but Qatar" will do fine thanks.

(For an alternate viewpoint, I refer you to Sheikh Ahmad al-Sabah, president of the Olympic Council of Asia; he told reporters over the weekend that the whole thing is due to "racism". You know it's getting real when they start reaching for the race card before the results are even known.)

Still, while all of this is makes terrific fodder for key pounders and naval gazers around the globe, nobody at FIFA was going to lose much sleep over another (ho hum) bribery scandal, it didn't become a real live crisis until this weekend when for the very first time something happened which threatened to change the whole deal.

The big money sponsors, the guys who kick in as much as 40% of FIFA's budget, $400 million worth per year, sent FIFA a message:

Enough is enough.

We all know that FIFA basically doesn't give a damn what the media or the fans or the players think about anything, but when the money starts squawking it's a whole different thing.

Here's where the money is

Here's where the money is

FIFA has what they refer to as a "three tier" sponsorship program, based on how much lovely money you send to Zurich for Sepp Blatter to dole out to his loyal minions in return for their continued support.

The top tier consists of six companies. Five of them went public over the weekend, issuing statements that leave very little doubt about the fact that having their names and corporate images publicly associated with sleaze, bribery and scandal are not at all what they signed up for.

(Quick quiz: from the names above, which one of the six would you guess did NOT issue a statement on this subject? If you guessed Emirates, well, you're paying attention.)

adidas: "The negative tenor of the public debate around FIFA at the moment is neither good for football nor for FIFA and its partners"

Coca-Cola: "Anything that detracts from the mission and ideals of the FIFA World Cup is a concern to us,"

Hyundai: "We are confident that FIFA is taking these allegations seriously and that the Investigatory Chamber of the FIFA Ethics Committee will conduct a thorough investigation"

Sony: "As a FIFA partner, we expect these allegations to be investigated appropriately"

Visa: "We expect FIFA will take the appropriate actions to respond to the report and its recommendations"

They're making it clear that they expect results, not another whitewash. Suspending a couple of low level federation officials because they got free cars or vacations at fancy spas isn't going to appease them. Not this time.

So let's look at where the investigation stands.

Weeks ago, FIFA investigator Michael Garcia announced that he intended to conclude his probe into the circumstances of the World Cup awards for 2018 and 2022 on June 9 which, not coincidentally, is today.

It's important to note that FIFA's Ethics Committee is actually two eight member boards whose roles and powers are tightly defined.

Garcia is the Chairman of the "Investigatory Chamber" which, as the name implies, is charged with investigating FIFA rulebreaking.

(Garcia was not anyone's first choice for this job. Swiss ethics guru Mark Pieth, whose independent committee proposed a long list of FIFA reforms, many of which were actually considered, gave the Executive Committee a list of four names from which to choose.

Two of those were women and the ExCo immediately rejected them on the grounds that - I am not making this up - they weren't going to answer to some female.  The two male candidates were rejected because they had histories of being really tough and, well, nobody wanted that.)

The Investigatory Chamber then turns its findings over to the "Adjudicatory Chamber" for consideration and, if deemed appropriate, disciplinary action. This committee is headed by a distinguished German judge, Hans-Joachim Eckert and includes among the other seven members former USSF President Alan Rothenberg.

Note however one critical fact: while the Ethics Committee Adjudicatory Chamber can fine, suspend or even ban football officials as they see fit, they have no power to take the World Cup away from Qatar.

So even if Garcia presents them with HD video of the Emir of Qatar handing large gold bars to ExCo members in return for their votes, it will change nothing as far as 2022 is concerned.

The only entity that has the ability to reopen the 2022 bidding process is FIFA's Executive Committee, and to say there's some resistance to that idea amongst many of the members of that august body is like saying that playing soccer in 140 degree heat for 90 minutes is unhealthy: it's patently obvious.

Yesterday, The Sunday Times published installment #2 in their series "FIFA is a bunch of bought and paid for weasels" and the only surprise is that there's so much more of the same.

One of the most damaging stories concerned the ExCo member from Thailand, Worawi Makudi, the man who, now that guys like Warner, Texiera and Leoz are gone is in contention for the  "Most Corrupt Member" award for 2014, was involved in a massive natural gas deal though Mohammad bin Hammam with Qatar that netted millions through absurdly favorable pricing.

I'm not going to bore - or depress - you with all the slime and greed The Times lays out in agonizing detail because Garcia apparently doesn't care: he decided weeks ago that Qatar was telling the truth when they told him that MBH had "no official or unofficial role" with the bid and, therefore, nothing he did was relevant to this investigation.

Additionally, Garcia has not examined and will not consider any of the evidence The Times has uncovered. This has struck a lot of people as rather curious.

One explanation may be that it has become increasingly obvious that this stuff did not come from "a senior FIFA official" as originally claimed; rather, it came from a massive hack of the AFC's email system and database. Perhaps Garcia is a bit squeamish about using it.

Or perhaps he already has the goods on Qatar and doesn't feel that he needs any of it.

Or maybe he intends to paper over the whole thing and doesn't want to have to explain away all the other evidence.

We just don't know. He will be making some kind of "report" on his findings to the General Congress this week, but nobody knows how much detail he;ll go into. Either way it's doubtful that the full contents of his report to Eckert's committee will be released anytime soon.

What we do know is that it may not matter to the sponsors; for the first time there are players in the game who truly do care what the public perception of FIFA corruption is, and if they aren't happy with the results they have a really big hammer.

Sepp Blatter has arranged a particularly nauseating charade for later this week.

He will address the Congress and ask for their "consent" for him to run for another four year term.

After he does so, the Presidents of five FIFA Confederations - including CONCACAF's Jeff Webb, will follow, giving brief but impassioned speeches about what a wonderful job Blatter is doing and how richly he deserves one more term in office.

In light of all that's going on - Qatar 2022 being built on the bodies of thousands of abused and exploited workers, widespread bribery and corruption obviously still rampant, big money sponsors verging on open revolt - it's hard to imagine how any of them can get through such a grotesque mockery with a straight face.

But somehow, we know they'll manage.

 

Bid Chairman and Royal family member Hamid al Thani

Bid Chairman and Royal family member Hamid al Thani