A blog about world football

Find me on

Recent tweets

The Sunday Times and the plot to buy the World Cup

 The Sunday Times last night published the most significant FIFA story since evidence emerged of bribes linked to Mohamed Bin Hammam’s presidential campaign three years ago. The story – based on leaks of ‘hundreds of millions of emails, accounts and other documents’, seemingly from the AFC of which Bin Hammam was president until his fall - takes up the first eleven pages of the paper’s print edition. 

The Sunday Times use these documents to demonstrate how Bin Hammam:

Used 10 slush funds controlled by his private company and cash handouts to make dozens of payments of up to $200,000 into accounts controlled by the presidents of 30 African football associations who held sway over how the continent’s four executive (Exco) members would vote

Hosted a series of lavish junkets for football presidents across Africa at which he handed out almost $400,000 in cash and met delegates privately to offer further payments while pushing for their support for the Qatar bid

Paid out at least €305,000 in legal and private detective fees for Reynald Temarii, the disgraced Oceania Exco member, after he was suspended for telling undercover reporters that he had been offered $12m for his vote. Temarii refused to resign as an Exco member, thus preventing his planned replacement from voting for Qatar’s rival Australia in 2022 and England in 2018

Funnelled more than $1.6m directly into bank accounts controlled by Jack Warner, the Exco member for Trinidad and Tobago, including $450,000 before the vote

Used his position in charge of Fifa’s Goal Programme funds to channel $800,000 to the Ivory Coast FA, whose Exco member Jacques Anouma agreed to “push very hard the bid of Qatar”. He also signed off two payments of $400,000 each to the federations of two other voters

Hosted Issa Hayatou, the president of the Confederation of African Football (CAF), on a lavish junket in Doha at which delegates were lobbied over the 2022 bid. A month later the Qatar bid committee announced an exclusive $1m deal to sponsor CAF’s annual congress in Angola, preventing rival countries including Australia from lobbying key figures from the continent.

In terms of depth of material and a documented insight into how sports politics really works it represents a staggering – almost unprecedented - piece of journalism. It was one of those stories that I had to read and re-read as the significance sank in. But what does it mean, both in relation to FIFA and the future of the 2022 World Cup.

 Here’s some initial thoughts:

1/ Payments to Temarii are a ‘smoking gun’

Previous stories relating to Bin Hammam have tended to focus on his relationship with Jack Warner and payments that have passed between the Qatari and the Trinidadian. There has never been any real suggestion that Warner voted for Qatar (the USA were Qatar’s rivals; Warner was head of CONCACAF; although capable of anything I suspect such treason would have come out by now) and my belief was that this was linked to Bin Hammam’s bid for the FIFA presidency. In addition, Bin Hammam was the central figure in forging an alliance with the Spain-Portugal bid that provided at least four votes to Qatar’s winning bid – although this has never been formally documented.

What we now have is documented evidence of Bin Hammam supporting Reynald Temarii, who, in refusing to resign as an Exco member, prevented his planned replacement from voting for Qatar’s rival Australia in 2022. I doubt whether this had any impact on Australia’s ultimate demise, but it shows clear evidence of the bid race being manipulated by someone with very close links to a bid.

2/ Bin Hammam was of the bid but not part of it

Qatar 2022 will invariably distance themselves from Bin Hammam, as they always have done. There is an element of truth in this in that he had almost no direct links with the bid team, even with some senior members. To some of them he was spoken of as an almost mystical figure. At the time of bidding it was also rumoured that he was unhappy with the bid’s existence; that it would get in the way of his bid for the FIFA presidency. Even when Qatar won, I recall he remained in the shadows.

But at the same time he was a central figure behind the scenes. He did lobbying, he cut the deals. He provided an unparalleled fount of knowledge on FIFA politics. He was, Qatar 2022’s bid chairman told me two months out from the vote, ‘Qatar’s biggest asset’. 

3/ Bribery that directly influenced World Cup voters remains unproven  

The Sunday Times show in compelling fashion how Bin Hammam had the African Football Confederation (CAF) in his grip. Hospitality was lavished upon federation heads and their guests in Doha and Kuala Lumpur, with $5000 payments being made for shopping trips.

At other times those involved in African football would almost casually contact Bin Hammam looking for handouts. These include George Weah, one of its greatest ever players, who was looking to launch a domestic political career in Liberia. The trail of emails linked to this giant of football, look depressingly like a 412 scam. There are begging emails from officials in Somalia, Namibia and elsewhere.

Let’s forget Qatar 2022 here for a second. Other than as an exertion of soft power, I don’t think this has anything to do with the World Cup bid race. None of these people had a vote. Instead what it shows us is how the electoral machinery worked – or works – on a FIFA presidential campaign. Bin Hammam was clearly building up a power base before taking on Sepp Blatter in May 2011. He would probably have won as well.

4/ Questions for Blatter

If this is how FIFA elections are won, perhaps serious questions need to be asked about Sepp Blatter, who has held that position since 1998.

And who was the key individual behind Blatter’s defeat of Lennart Johannson back then?

Bin Hammam.

As the Sunday Times assert:

 In 1996 [actually it was 1998] [Bin Hammam] provided strategic and logistical support to Blatter’s successful campaign for the presidency of Fifa. It was claimed that Blatter won with the help of bribes supplied by Bin Hammam.

Crucially, it was alleged that the African football confederation had been set to vote for Blatter’s rival but switched sides after “Arab backers knocked on hotel doors in the dead of night”.

Mohiadin Hassan Ali, then vice-president of the Somali Football Association, said an association official had accepted money to vote for Blatter. He added: “The money was supplied by Mohamed Bin Hammam from Qatar. He paid for tickets and hotel bills and pocket money for four officials from the Somali association.”

Bin Hammam said he may have paid some expenses for officials to travel to Paris for the vote at Fifa’s 51st congress as Qatar had helped fund Blatter’s presidential bid.

He said Blatter had “ asked for help with his campaign. The emir gave me the job.”

Stories about Bin Hammam’s methods have abounded for years, but have never before been properly documented. Now his modus operandi has been confirmed, perhaps some serious questions now need to be asked of Blatter. Is this how Blatter gained the presidency?

Something Bin Hammam told me in 2011 has always stuck in my mind: ‘Nobody has done more difficult things for Blatter than me.’

Whatever could he have meant?

5/ Timing is everything

The Sunday Times suggest that the leak came from within FIFA, which could, of course, be a red herring to protect their source.

Either way it seems an extraordinary coincidence that the leak comes now; on the eve of its investigator, Michael Garcia, visiting Oman to interview Qatari officials and just a week out from FIFA Congress. Indeed, what a coincidence that these stories always seem to come out just ahead of key comments on the FIFA calendar!

6/ Bin Hammam is no devil

It is easy to demonise Bin Hammam. He is an outsider who took on Blatter and lost. What has happened to him over the past three years is a form of victor’s justice. In my own dealings with him as a journalist, I always found him to be courteous, elusive, benevolent. He is certainly no Jack Warner. He was more transparent than most other Exco members insofar as he would actually talk to journalists, instead of treating you as if he had scraped you off the sole of his shoe. He was mostly liked by his colleagues at the AFC – far more than his successors.

He could, of course, be utterly ruthless with his enemies and rivals.

We’ve seen his largesse now in documentary form. I think what it demonstrates, above all, is that he was part of a rotten system that was – and is - easy to manipulate if you have deep enough pockets. He was a player in this system, not its creator. And he lost and is now paying a very heavy price: denigration and humiliation.

His biggest error was, of course, taking on Blatter in 2011. Had he sat firm I have no doubt he would still be on the Exco and there would not be such significant questions asked about Qatar 2022. In trying to take every prize going he has lost everything and risks losing the greatest prize of all for his country: World Cup 2022.