By Brian Homewood
ZURICH (Reuters) – A much-awaited FIFA report on the race to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups makes no suggestion that Russia or Qatar should lose the right to stage the tournaments, despite detailing numerous attempts to influence voting officials.
The 430-page report, released on Tuesday, had been under wraps since being completed by FIFA’s then-ethics investigator Michael Garcia in November 2014. FIFA chose to publish after the document was leaked to the German newspaper Bild.
Russia was awarded the 2018 World Cup and Qatar the 2022 tournament in a single, secret vote in Zurich in December, 2010.
After persistent allegations of illegitimate attempts to influence the 22 voting FIFA executive committee members, Garcia was asked to investigate.
In November 2014, his completed report was handed to the FIFA ethics judge at the time, Hans-Joachim Eckert, whose 42-page summary that said there was not enough evidence to re-open the bidding process.
Nevertheless, the lack of transparency surrounding the bidding for two major global sporting showpieces prompted closer investigation of FIFA affairs that led to the indictment of a host of senior officials and the eventual resignation and banning of FIFA president Sepp Blatter.
On Russia, Garcia said that Vladimir Putin, then Russia’s prime minister and now president, had actively supported his country’s bid and had a significant presence, but that “there is no apparent violation of the FIFA rules of conduct in this regard”.
“There is no evidence in this record to suggest that the Russia bid committee attempted to exert undue influence on any FIFA executive committee members in order to secure their votes,” Garcia added.
On Qatar, Garcia wrote: “To the extent this report identifies conduct by Qatar 2022 that may not have met the standards set out in the FIFA code of ethics or the bid rules, culpability is mitigated by the fact that these issues were uncovered largely as a result of its cooperation.”
The report said Blatter, who has denied any wrongdoing, bore “some responsibility for a flawed process that engendered deep public scepticism”, though it also praised him for implementing reforms including those that made the report itself possible.
In the running alongside Russia to stage the 2018 World Cup were England and joint bids from Spain/Portugal and the Netherlands/Belgium. Qatar’s rivals for the 2022 tournament were Australia, Japan, the United States and South Korea.
The Swiss attorney general’s office used Garcia’s report as the basis for a criminal investigation into the award of the tournaments that is still continuing.
Blatter stepped down in 2015 and was subsequently banned from soccer for six years following an internal ethics investigation.
(Additional reporting by Michael Shields; writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Kevin Liffey)