FIFA’s ethics court begins a three-day session on Monday to help decide if two voters and at least two candidates should be barred from the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding contests for alleged corruption.
The unprecedented meeting in Zurich will shape a tense final stretch of lobbying before FIFA’s executive committee chooses the hosts in a secret ballot on Dec. 2. The poll could proceed without Reynald Temarii and Amos Adamu, who are suspended from the 24-man body and will plead their case for reinstatement to the ethics committee.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter has said the ethics probe should "bring back credibility to football."
Awarding a World Cup is FIFA’s most important decision, with each tournament required to earn around 95 percent of the governing body’s income every four years.
However, the process has been rocked by allegations made by the British Sunday Times last month. The newspaper published secretly filmed interviews with current and former FIFA officials which suggested voters could be bribed, and that bidders were flouting the rules by striking vote-trading pacts.
Those being investigated have stressed their innocence and expressed confidence that the ethics panel will find no conclusive evidence of corruption.
"I have no doubt that I will vote on Dec. 2," Temarii, the suspended FIFA vice president, told The Associated Press last week. He said the ethics hearing would let him show that "grossly manipulated" interviews were edited to make him appear corrupt.
Temarii, the Tahitian president of Oceania’s confederation, and Amos Adamu of Nigeria were filmed in an undercover sting appearing to offer their votes for sale to fund football projects at home.
Asian confederation president Mohamed Bin Hammam also has defended his native Qatar, a 2022 candidate, against allegations of colluding with 2018 contender Spain-Portugal.
"I can bet you (that) you will never see any proof," Bin Hammam told a Swiss television channel in a recent interview posted on his personal website.
FIFA has not identified which of the nine bidders it is investigating. The European contest for 2018 is between England, Russia and the joint bids of Belgium-Netherlands and Spain-Portugal. The 2022 race involves the United States, Australia, Japan, South Korea and Qatar.
An Oct. 20 meeting of the ethics committee already was set to examine bidders’ behavior when the Sunday Times published its first allegations about Temarii and Adamu. A second round of revelations came the next weekend.
Blatter’s former right-hand man at FIFA, Michel Zen-Ruffinen, was shown telling reporters posing as lobbyists that Qatar and Spain-Portugal had arranged to secure seven of the 24 votes. A simple majority is needed to win.
"This is not just a rumor, that’s fact," said Zen-Ruffinen, who succeeded his boss Blatter to serve as FIFA’s general secretary from 1998-2002 and was offering to work as a consultant.
Talk about a Qatari-Iberian plot deepened when it emerged that during an Oct. 29 meeting of FIFA’s executive committee, Spain’s bid leader Angel Maria Villar passed a note to Bin Hammam which translated as "Congratulations, we’re going to win." Villar’s intended meaning is unclear, but witnesses said it happened after Blatter acknowledged no hard evidence of collusion had been found.
Blatter is likely to play a big role if the ethics committee offers up advise rather than binding verdicts on Wednesday.
Led by lawyer and former Switzerland player Claudio Sulser, the independent panel gets its authority from the executive committee chaired by Blatter. FIFA statutes also allow ethics decisions to be challenged at its appeal committee and then the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
The FIFA president has called his executive group into emergency session in Zurich on Friday to address the ethics decisions.
The ethics committee also will consider cases against four former FIFA executive committee members who, like Temarii and Adamu, are serving provisional suspensions from football duty.
Tunisian lawyer Slim Aloulou, Amadou Diakite of Mali, Botswana’s Ismail Bhamjee and Ahongalu Fusimalohi from Tonga all reportedly advised undercover reporters how to bribe FIFA voters and how much to pay.