Nothing beats a good bribe if and when you’re after the right to host a World Cup of football (soccer for North American readers).
According to intelligence sources, FIFA vice president and UEFA president Michel Platini’s personal collection now features a painting by Pablo Picasso that used to be hidden in Russia’s national archives.
FIFA is football’s (soccer’s) governing body all over the world. UEFA’s fiefdom includes all of Europe.
These allegations of bribery, of course, neatly fit the allegations of a massive vote-buying scandal involving bids for the two forthcoming World Cups: the 2018 in Russia, and the 2022 in Qatar.
A report out of Great Britain lists a Picasso painting (or Picasso paintings) as having been removed from Russia’s national archives – either from the Hermitage Gallery in the Palace Square in St. Petersburg or from the Kremlin in Moscow itself. Of course, one wonders: has there been an art archive hidden in the Kremlin? Or did the report mean the Tretyakov Gallery on Lavrushinsky Lane in Moscow, and it only wanted to say the painting was removed on orders from the Kremlin?
The British House of Commons Media and Sport committee claims it got its information from what it called “high-level intelligence gathering and surveillance on the other countries bidding to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.”
It is good to remember in this context that the British did submit their bid for the 2018 World Cup, too, but were not successful. The 2018 and 2022 bid situation was somewhat convoluted: FIFA told its members they can bid on either event or on both of them. The British first tried bidding on both, and then concentrated on 2018. It didn’t do them much good.
Russian authorities, as could (and should) be expected, hotly denied any underhanded skulduggery, bribes included.
Now, of course, this particular denial is coming from a country that gave birth to the rule that one oughtn’t believe any rumours until they’d been officially denied. So, Russia’s denial doesn’t prove anything.
What did not help matters was what happened after FIFA ordered an investigation. Some 18 months later, it received the Adjudicatory Chamber’s report. FIFA said the report cleared both Russia and Qatar of any wrongdoing. No need to start the bidding charade again, FIFA said. But the language of its statement that announced FIFA’s decision was somewhat involved for a layperson (and convoluted for experts in legalese, too): “The various incidents which might have occurred are not suited to compromise the integrity of the FIFA World Cup 2018/2022 bidding process as a whole.”
What didn’t help matters, either, was the strange fact that FIFA’s lead investigator dissented and said so publicly. Michael Garcia announced he would appeal.
Garcia went so far as to issue a statement saying, verbatim: “Today’s decision by the Chairman of the Adjudicatory Chamber contains numerous materially incomplete and erroneous representations of the facts and conclusions detailed in the Investigatory Chamber’s report.”
Here’s the translation: the final report is a bloody lie. The winners cheated. And cheating happens to be unsportsmanlike.
Garcia, a former U.S. federal prosecutor, examined the 2010 vote. The funniest part: Garcia submitted his still unpublished report to criminal authorities in Switzerland. That’s where FIFA is based.
Oh, those nosy reporters!
It all began with reporting in The Sunday Times of London.
These stories, the paper said, were based on what it described as a secret “database” put together by English soccer officials as they were bidding unsuccessfully to host the 2018 tournament. British embassies and former intelligence officers unearthed and collected the information used in the allegations of bribery-induced vote rigging.
Not unexpectedly, Michel Platini of France, a member of the powerful executive committee of FIFA, denied receiving the gift, calling the report a “ridiculous rumour.”
Besides, Platini told the French news agency AFP, “The allegations in The Sunday Times are completely fictitious. This case is now in the hands of my counsel for possible libel.”
Why Platini? Could it be a typical example of the traditional love that has existed through centuries between the French and the English?
Not really. This is far too important. It is also good to remember that Platini leads UEFA, the European soccer authority that oversees the Champions League. Many consider him as a possible successor to FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who is up for re-election next year.
The Sunday Times 15-page statement submitted to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee of the British House of Commons goes so far as to name Russia’s president Vladimir Putin as having been personally involved in the bribery scheme.
It took one single vote in 2010 by the FIFA executive committee members to decide the winning bids of both 2018 and 2022 tournaments.
This is highly unusual in and of itself.
This kind of voting also suggests that the numerous reports saying the bidding process was rife with opportunities for bribery, kickbacks and voting pacts couldn’t have been too far off the mark. Especially because investigators associated with England’s unsuccessful bid for the 2018 Cup uncovered evidence that Russia and Qatar had joined forces to influence votes in a pact “seemingly brokered through a major bilateral gas cooperation agreement.”
In another interesting twist, the FBI and IRS took an interest in FIFA’s executive committee. The two bodies turned Chuck Blazer – the lone American on the committee in 2010 – into a cooperating witness in a federal criminal probe based in the Eastern District of New York.
Meanwhile, the New York Daily News reported that Blazer had met personally with Putin in the lead up to the World Cup vote, posting photographs of himself with the Russian president on his blog.
Later, after FBI and IRS confronted Blazer with evidence of unpaid taxes, he agreed to go undercover for the feds, secretly recording his meetings with soccer officials during the London Olympics in 2012.
Why is all this important?
All of this serves as yet another proof (as if one was still needed) that the gigantic sports events have turned into moneymaking machines for groups of well-connected entrepreneurs.
These things are no longer about sports, no matter how you look at it.
Populations all over the world are massaged by mass media to become supporters of the various Olympic Games, World Cups and other such gatherings of professional athletes. What they do not realize is that – as faithful taxpayers – they pay for most of the costs. The money ends in the pockets of those who build the sites and those who grant them the right to stage these events.
So, it’s not so much megalomania as it is a money grab.
If private entities were to stage such huge events, there would be no special reason to complain that they ended up with a profit. They risked, they won. What’s wrong with that? Nothing.
It’s when taxpayers pay for the dance and private businesses win the door prizes that these things begin to smell funny. When, on top of it all, all kinds of officials get to share in the proceeds without sharing a cent with those who had originally paid the piper, the whole scenario begins to stink to high heaven.
How long will it take before taxpayers see the light?