FIFA meets amid crisis over Garcia's resignation
Garcia quit Wednesday in protest over the handling of his World Cup bid investigation
Amid another crisis at FIFA, President Sepp Blatter and his executive committee opened a two-day meeting Thursday to discuss the sudden resignation of ethics prosecutor Michael Garcia and whether to publish his confidential World Cup report.
Garcia quit Wednesday in protest over the handling of his World Cup bid investigation. The American lawyer's departure could increase pressure on FIFA to publish the 430-page report on the 2010 votes that awarded the World Cup to Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022.
The 27 members of the executive committee are split over releasing all or part of Garcia's report, which has led to three of them facing unethical conduct charges.
Relaxing strict FIFA secrecy rules could potentially hurt those being investigated by the former U.S. Attorney and former Interpol vice president, whose previous work as a prosecutor included the 1993 World Trade Center bombers and a Russian arms dealer.
Only a very small circle within FIFA has seen the Garcia report. Continuing to sit on it will deepen suspicions that the body is woefully short on transparency and good governance, and prefers to suppress wrongdoing rather than correct it.
The executive committee gathered in a luxury Marrakech hotel that was closed to non-guests for the day. The 78-year-old Blatter rode to the meeting in a black limousine from another hotel that was just a short walk away.
Garcia's resignation statement on Wednesday was critical of FIFA's slow, tentative steps toward greater accountability, much ballyhooed by Blatter since his unopposed re-election in 2011.
"No independent governance committee, investigator, or arbitration panel can change the culture of an organization," Garcia wrote.
The fallout over Garcia's resignation will overshadow other important items on the agenda.
The executive committee is to hear an update on World Cup preparations in Russia. The staggering fall in the value of the Russian ruble raises questions about how the Kremlin and Russian firms will continue to fund a massive program of works to host the tournament.
On Thursday, Putin said the World Cup was an "expensive thing," but if it "provides extra grounds to develop Russia then we don't mind spending money on it."
FIFA executives will also be updated on the inevitable disruption of the soccer calendar if they decide to move the World Cup in Qatar to cooler months.
But it is the collapse of Garcia's effort to answer questions about the legitimacy of FIFA's selection of Russia and Qatar that will be the focus of Blatter's traditional post-meeting news conference on Friday.
The executive committee will discuss publishing Garcia's dossier, and could finally see it for themselves.
So far, FIFA has released only a 42-page summary of Garcia's report, which concluded that any corruption or rule-breaking was limited and did not influence the December 2010 vote.
Garcia objected to that, saying the summary misrepresented his findings. That set off a conflict that eventually led to his resignation and his damning criticism of "the lack of leadership on these issues within FIFA."
Prosecutions launched by Garcia against five senior football officials for wrongdoing in the World Cup campaigns will continue. Those cases can be led by his ethics investigation deputy, Zurich-based former public prosecutor Cornel Borbely.
Former Germany great Franz Beckenbauer, a voting member of the FIFA executive committee in 2010, is the highest profile of the five accused men.
Three current board members – FIFA vice president Angel Maria Villar of Spain, Michel D'Hooghe of Belgium and Worawi Makudi of Thailand – also face sanctions for their actions during contests marred by claims of bribery, collusion and favor-seeking.