Challenging FIFA’s probe of Qatar World Cup scandal

Lawyers and legal professionals associated with the sports industry have differing views on ethics investigator Michael Garcia’s surprising decision

Paul Crompton
Paul Crompton - Al Arabiya News
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FIFA’s chief ethics investigator, Michael Garcia, is due on Monday to submit the findings of his investigation into allegations that Qatar was involved in bribing its way through the bidding process to host the 2022 World Cup.

But a possible investigation into Garcia’s investigation could be needed, especially since the New York-based lawyer has reportedly refused to examine a treasure trove of files that could provide evidence over Qatar’s possible wrongdoing in the 2022 World Cup bid.

But why has the ethics prosecutor – whose illustrious career has included the prosecution of terrorists and leading the federal case against former sex-scandal hit New York Governor Eliot Spitzer in 2008 - rejected to view the files?

Lawyers and legal professionals associated with the sports industry have largely differing views on Garcia’s surprising decision.
“I doubt very much that Mr Garcia would not ask to see it [the evidence] and consider it. To do otherwise would damage his own credibility,” said Kevin Carpenter, a solicitor at UK-based international law firm Hill Dickinson LLP.

“[Garcia] should be examining all of the relevant evidence. If he does not do this then the accuracy his report and his findings could…be called into question,” said Jamie Horner, the head of 7 Legal, a sports and events law firm.

Paul J. Greene, an attorney and the founder at U.S.-based law firm Global Sports Advocates, believes that Garcia is treading a fine line between finding out the truth and protecting the image of his employer.

“He is almost certainly feeling pressure to protect FIFA’s image to the best extent possible,” said Greene.

A simple explanation could be that at this late stage of proceedings, it is impractical and “wholly unrealistic” for the investigator to look at the millions of emails which were first reported by the UK newspaper [The Sunday Times] on June 1,” John Mehrzad, a barrister specialized in sports law at London-based firm Littleton Chambers, told Arabiya News.

A representative from Kirkland & Ellis, the U.S.-based law firm of which Garcia is a partner, told Al Arabiya News that Garcia “is not available for interviews.”

If the report concludes that corruption had taken place, could the report lead to a re-vote, as many top footballing officials - including Fifa Vice-President Jim Boyce and UEFA chief Michel Platini - have called for?

“My guess is yes, there will be a re-vote,” said Greene.

“This latest report coupled with the stories of human rights abuse coming out of Qatar…and the uproar from players over the stifling summer temperatures have all combined to make Qatar 2022 a no-win situation for FIFA,” he added.

While a re-vote could be a “real possibility,” FIFA’s troubles would not be over - the governing body might then face legal action from the Qatar organizing committee, according to Carpenter.

Any possible corruption cover-up FIFA could orchestrate would likely prove a deadly threat to the governing body’s boss, Sepp Blatter, according to Horner.

“If corruption is evident and FIFA attempt to brush this under the carpet then Sepp Blatter’s position would surely come under increased scrutiny and challenge and could become untenable,” he said.

The high cost both to Blatter’s own position and a long drawn out legal battle with Qatar’s government could result in the governing body sticking to 2010’s bidding results, Mehrzad said.

“It may be that FIFA decide that the most sensible and practical course to take is just leave Qatar with the World Cup, despite any adverse findings by Garcia,” said the barrister.

Qatar’s hosting of the World Cup has been plagued by controversy from the outset.

Common criticisms over its World Cup project are the country’s extreme summer heat, allegations into mistreatment of laborers toiling to complete its sports stadiums and its lack of of local football tradition or infrastructure.

While FIFA boss Sepp Blatter has largely refused to comment on the alleged corruption – although he did last month call awarding Qatar with the tournament “a mistake” - early on Sunday he posted a message on his Twitter account saying:

“Never ignoring media reports on ethics allegations in football. But let the Ethics Committee work!”

Adding to Qatar’s World Cup woes, two of FIFA’s main sponsors have recently spoken out on its bid.

Japanese electronics giant Sony called on the governing body to carry out an “appropriate investigation” into the bidding process – the first such sponsor to do so – the Times reported on Sunday.

Quick to follow with shared concerns was German sportswear firm Adidas, FIFA’s longest-standing World Cup partner.
The “negative tenor” of claims about the bid is not good for “football nor for Fifa and its partners,” the Sunday Times then reported.

Meanwhile, calling the documents it had obtained “the Fifa files,” the same newspaper continues to publish stories suggesting Qatari malfeasance.

“Fresh disclosures from the Fifa files show how Mohammad bin Hammam… pulled strings at the top of government and with the country’s royal family to arrange meetings and favors for key voters in the months leading up to the World Cup ballot,” began another story in Sunday’s paper.

Although Qatar denies bin Hammam was connected to its bid for the cup, the former official has already been banned by FIFA for life from football over accusations that he paid bribes to win votes for a bid to replace Blatter and become president – a ban that was initially overturned before being replaced by another for conflicts of interest.

Meanwhile, the small Gulf state’s committee in charge of the 2022 World Cup seems confident that they will come out of Garcia’s investigation unscathed.

Qatar’s world cup committee said Sunday that it stands by a statement issued last week denying any impropriety in securing rights to host the tournament, according to the Associated Press.

“Consistent with FIFA’s rules we have been asked to refrain from commenting on the investigation and we will comply with that request,” it said Sunday, according to the Associated Press, the same day the Sunday Times published a story claiming that Qatari officials inked a gas deal with Thailand in probable exchange for its backing.

“We are confident that at the end of the appropriate process, the award of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar will stand.”

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