FIFA president Sepp Blatter has said that a "new FIFA" would choose the venues for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, after corruption allegations forced world soccer's governing body to ban two members of the executive committee that will elect the host countries on December 2.
"It is with a large amount of optimism that I am looking forward to this decisive date," Blatter told reporters in a press conference responding to Thursday's verdict from the FIFA ethics committee. Blatter also said "all doubts have been cast aside" with regard to the credibility of the vote, and that no further corruption cases would come to light in the mean time.
A total of six officials received bans and fines on Thursday, after undercover reporters for the British newspaper Sunday Times posed as US lobbyists and secretly filmed the FIFA representatives either offering to sell their influence or talking about corruption in the organization.
Executive committee members Amos Adamu of Nigeria and Reynald Temarii of Tahiti were the most high profile casualties, as both were among the panel of 24 people scheduled to influence where the 2018 and 2022 World Cups would take place.
Adamu was banned from football activity for three years and fined 10,000 Swiss francs ($10,050/7,370 euros), while Temarii was banned for one year and fined 5,000 Swiss francs.
"Now we have to have a look at how to act in the future to avoid such situations. Definitely this is an item which is now under scrutiny," Blatter told assembled reporters at the FIFA headquarters in Zurich.
FIFA blasts reporters for 'entrapment'
Blatter also reserved criticism, however, for the Sunday Times reports that led to the sanctions - following in the footsteps of FIFA's ethics committee chairman, Claudio Sulser, who lambasted the paper in the initial ruling on Thursday - saying the reporters had not been playing fair.
"It gave us the opportunity to clean a little bit of whatever has to be cleaned," Blatter said.
"But I cannot say it is very fair when you open traps," the president added, saying the reporting amounted to "entrapment of people."
Speaking to Deutsche Welle, Jens Sejer Andersen, the head of the sports ethics organization Play the Game - which has been campaigning for the introduction of a world body that oversees the dealings of organizations like FIFA or the International Olympic Committee - said he was baffled by the criticisms directed at the undercover journalism from FIFA's ethics committee chairman Claudio Sulser.
"He expressed, almost, that he would have liked to be able to ban the Sunday Times too. This is a paradox. Without the information, there would have been no process and no members would have been banned," said Andersen.
"If Sulser, the chairman of the ethics committee, thinks that the Sunday Times did twist the facts, how can he then use the report as a basis for sanctions against six leading FIFA officials?" he asked. If Sulser is correct and the report was skewed, he argues, then the officials would surely have a good chance at appeal.
Both executive committee members, Adamu and Temarii, say they intend to appeal the verdict, but their cases will not be heard before the World Cup decision in December.
"FIFA, in reality, does not like investigative journalism. They claim they do, but I think they only like the kind of investigative journalism that does not hurt anybody," Andersen said.
The criticism of the Sunday Times article has prompted concerns in Britain, which is considered one of the strong candidates for the 2018 World Cup bid. Fears that the perceived muckraking might cost the English bid votes among other executive committee members have only been exacerbated by the BBC's plans to air an extended 30-minute expose on FIFA's shadier side just days before the organization meets to decide the would-be hosts' fate.
The collusion problem
For FIFA, this week's positive headline was that the ethics committee did not find sufficient evidence that representatives of the 2018 Spain/Portugal bid and the 2022 Qatar bid had colluded and agreed to vote reciprocally. However, the soccer authority has admitted that holding its first ever dual decision on World Cup hosting was a mistake, and encouraged the interested parties to form alliances.
"You cannot avoid collusion but if there should be something wrong in such collusion, then naturally somebody should intervene," Blatter said. "You find collusion in politics, in elections, when two parties are enemies during the year, and then they run together."
In reality, most major sporting decisions in organizations like FIFA or the IOC are motivated, at least in part, by some kind of horse trading anyway - but placing two World Cup votes side-by-side gave the parties bidding for the World Cup a rather unique opportunity and motive to seal a particularly worthwhile deal.
"Taking into account that several very big countries - Russia, Spain/Portugal, England, Holland/Belgium, the United States, Qatar - many countries have collectively invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the bidding campaign, I think that the taxpayers in these countries absolutely expect that the process of selecting the host countries is objective, transparent and fair," Play the Game's Andersen said.
Can FIFA change?
For Andersen, the problem is that sports, and especially soccer, are beginning to outgrow the old institutions established to govern them in an age when very little money was involved.
"Over the past 30 years, sports has become a global entertainment industry worth billions and billions of dollars. Yet it's still the same structures, associations, almost familial structures, that handle all these revenues, without much - or any - control," he said.
FIFA is one of many sporting authorities based in Switzerland, where it enjoys a string of special exemptions from disclosure laws that would apply to most Swiss businesses or charities.
Andersen notes that both FIFA and the Swiss government have made modest improvements in recent years, but also believes the organization will not be able to truly deliver on Blatter's promise of a "new FIFA" until tighter external oversight is introduced to actively discourage corruption.
"Oscar Wilde's saying 'I can resist anything, except temptation' applies to sports officials, just like the rest of us," he said.
Author: Mark Hallam
Editor: Martin Kuebler