New FIFA corruption claims too little, too late

New FIFA corruption claims too little, too late

Published May. 11, 2011 4:20 p.m. ET

For argument's sake, let's pretend that FIFA picked England, not Russia, last December to host the 2018 World Cup.

Would we now be hearing the allegations aired in the English parliament that the selection process was riddled with impropriety?

Of course not.

Best bet is that no one - at least no one English - would have breathed a word or given a damn. British Prime Minister David Cameron, Prince William and other upstanding Englishmen were happy to glad-hand and schmooze FIFA honchos when they were hungrily eyeing the lucre and prestige of a World Cup.


Firsthand evidence that some FIFA voters seemed receptive to inducements and might be less than squeaky clean was, we now learn too late, conveniently kept under wraps.

Shush, old chap, don't rock the boat. Not unless we lose, that is.

That doesn't mean the allegations themselves shouldn't be taken seriously just because they're coming after the event. But the claims that some FIFA voters angled for money, a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II and other favors, surely would have had greater impact and power to do good in the murky and back-scratching world of football governance had they been voiced loudly and sooner.

Corruption - anywhere, not just in football - thrives when those who know about it don't blow the whistle when they should. By failing to unmask those who seek bribes, even honest people become complicit. If some FIFA voters and the World Cup selection process are as rotten as we are being asked to believe, then that must in part be because, for too long, too many bidding countries were prepared to play in a game they knew, or at least suspected, may be rigged or, at best, not adequately open and democratic.

Or, to put it another way: ''The point was not pressed.''

Those were the dismaying words of David Triesman this week as the former chairman of England's Football Association and 2018 bid explained to lawmakers why England hadn't kicked up an almighty stink, when it really would have mattered, about FIFA executives who appeared ready to swap their votes for favors.

Triesman claimed that FIFA executive committee member Nicolas Leoz ''didn't need money, he already was personally a very wealthy man. ... He believed that a knighthood from the United Kingdom would be appropriate.''

Told that was impossible, ''Mr. Leoz shrugged his shoulders and turned and walked away,'' Triesman recalled. This, he added, happened at a meeting in November 2009, but we're only learning about these events now.

On Jack Warner's wish-list was ''some sort of school ... which would be his legacy to the Trinidad and Tobago football authority'' or a ''donation'' so World Cup games could be shown in quake-ravaged Haiti, Triesman alleged.

''He believed that if he had a sum of about half a million pounds (€570,000; US$800,000) sent to him, he could secure those (television) rights,'' Triesman told a House of Commons committee looking into England's failed bid.

Triesman quoted another FIFA executive, Ricardo Teixeira of Brazil, as saying, ''You come and tell me what you have for me.'' He also claimed that Worawi Makudi of Thailand wanted TV money from a possible match between the English and Thai national teams.

Then, from one English lawmaker on the panel, came the obvious question: ''What did you do about it? Did you express your concerns to FIFA?''

Triesman's response was as shocking as his allegations. In short, he explained that to avoid torpedoing England's bid, little or nothing was done. England decided that it wouldn't engage in dishonesty nor, it seems, was it determined to expose it.

Of course, England would have killed its faint chances of landing the World Cup had it dared voice impropriety claims before the December ballot. FIFA executives would have closed ranks (which they did anyway, giving just two votes to England). So it could be argued that England was guilty of nothing more than having engaged in real-politik. But what about putting honor before self-interest, openness and doing the right thing?

''What we did, and I'm not sure that it was the right thing to do, and I'll acknowledge that, but what we did was we decided inevitably that we would not engage in any of those kinds of activities, whatever the suggestions were,'' Triesman said.

He added: ''There was a huge amount of pressure to try and secure these games for England, a huge desire not to burn off any prospect of doing so. And although there have, from time to time, been some discussions with people at FIFA, the point was not pressed. I think in retrospect we would have burned off our chances of the games very much earlier.''

So what now?

Well, of course, FIFA should investigate. The World Cup selection process should, of course, be taken out of the hands of two dozen men who meet behind closed doors and be decided more openly by a larger electorate. Any FIFA member guilty of impropriety should be kicked out and Qatar should be stripped of the 2022 World Cup if claims are proven that Issa Hayatou and Jacques Anouma got $1.5 million to vote for the Gulf nation.

Will any of this happen? I, for one, am not banking on it - at least not on Sepp Blatter's watch. The FIFA president, up for re-election on June 1, isn't willing to put his hand in the fire to vouch for his executive committee colleagues.

''I cannot say they are all angels or they are all devils,'' he says.

That's hardly a ringing endorsement of them or his own determination to make sure that football has the scrupulously honest governance it deserves.

One crumb of comfort from Triesman's testimony was his assertion that Michel Platini is among FIFA executives widely thought to be ''completely incorruptible.''

Perhaps the UEFA president will take the reins at FIFA in four years time. Until then, football's corridors of power seem like very dark places, indeed.


John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jleicester(at) or