When Lord Triesman spoke before the British Parliament on Tuesday, it created shockwaves throughout the game. The former head of the English Football Association accused four members of FIFA Executive Committee -- the body charged with determining the host nations for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups -- of attempting to solicit favors from him in exchange for their support of the English bid for 2018. Two reporters for the Sunday Times newspaper were also called to testify and claimed that a "whistle-blower" within the Qatari FA told them that two other ExCo members, Jacques Anouma of Ivory Coast and Issa Hayatou of Cameroon, were paid $1.5 million in exchange for their support of Qatar's bid.
CONCACAF boss Jack Warner denies the allegations. So too do the Qataris. FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who is up for re-election, said he took the allegations seriously but wanted to see evidence and said any concrete evidence would be dealt with by FIFA's Ethics Committee.
OK, so now that's out of the way, what's next? How about a bit of context?
First and foremost, it's worth remembering that all these allegations were made during an inquiry by the British Parliament. And that's important because, thanks to something called parliamentary privilege, it means Triesman and the Sunday Times reporters enjoyed nearly absolute free speech, without being bound by defamation or libel laws. In other words, they can't be sued. (Not in the UK, anyway, and unless they have copious assets abroad, it probably doesn't matter if they're sued somewhere else.)
This may explain just why Lord Triesman is only speaking up now and kept quiet both ahead of the actual World Cup vote in December 2010 and after it, when FIFA awarded the competition to Russia and Qatar. It also explains why the Sunday Times never printed the whisteblower's allegations: it simply did not feel it had enough corroborating evidence to do so without getting sued. (Unlike, say, the allegations it printed that yet another two ExCo members, Nigeria's Amos Adamu and Tahiti's Reynald Temari, had solicited bribes. In their case, the Sunday Times had set up an undercover sting and caught them on tape. The pair were later suspended by FIFA.)
This is important, because when you accuse somebody of something, you need evidence. Otherwise it's your word against theirs. And you won't get very far in a court of law, and even less far with a body like FIFA.
The Sunday Times doesn't have any direct evidence. Just the words of an unnamed whisteblower who may or may not be telling the truth and who, in any case, wasn't able to provide enough corroborating evidence to back his claims. (If he had, the Sunday Times would have printed it.) You can't expect FIFA to act on that basis.
As for Triesman, the strongest case is that against Warner. Triesman claims he asked for $4.1 million to build an "education center" in his native Trinidad and another $820,000 to buy Haiti's World Cup TV rights so that he could set up big-screen TVs in the earthquake ravaged island to show the games. Now, Warner has been subjected to plenty of accusations in the past. Anyone with an Internet search engine can find out more. So perhaps the accusation is plausible. But then it's equally true that the English bid -- like many other bids -- had a "global development fund" set aside with hundreds of millions of dollars earmarked for just such projects. Was Warner simply suggesting to Triesman that this would be a worthwhile way to spend the money? Was he trying to skim some of it off for himself? Who knows? What you do know is that it's impossible to prove either scenario in a court of law. Not without any kind of corroborating evidence.
Thailand's Worawi Makudi, according to Triesman, wanted the TV rights to a scheduled friendly between his country and England. Did he personally want the rights to he could then sell them at a profit? Who knows? Not Triesman. He doesn't say. And it might be good to remind ourselves that the FA took the unusual step of organizing a friendly with Thailand in Bangkok. Why? Because it believed England would benefit from playing the mighty Thais? Could it have had something to do with courting Thailand's vote? (Answer: It may well have done. After Thailand did not vote for England for 2018, the FA promptly canceled the friendly.) And since we're talking quids pro quos, if you're willing to come and stage a friendly in my backyard am I not entitled to also ask for a little more, like a bigger share of the TV rights for the game? Maybe, maybe not. It depends on who benefits from it all. But, again, you can't prove much either way.
And what about the other two accused, Paraguay's Nicolas Leoz and Brazil's Ricardo Teixeira? According to Triesman, Leoz showed off his collection of honors, baubles and streets named after him in various corners of the globe. And then, through interpreter, said it would be nice if he got a knighthood. Crass? Yes. Slightly pathetic from an 82-year-old man who should probably be thinking about his grandchildren instead of another trinket for his personal trophy cabinet (Hey, Nicolas, when you kick the bucket you won't be taking any of it with you ...)? Absolutely. But is there the slightest margin for misunderstanding? Of course. And Triesman knows that. It's his word versus the interpreter's.
And Teixeira? Triesman says he told the boss of the Brazilian FA how much he was looking forward to meeting Lula, the Brazilian president (aren't we all?). Teixeira, apparently, said: "Lula is nothing. You come and tell me what you have for me." OK, what does it mean? Does it mean Teixeira was saying how much are you willing to give me personally for my vote? Does it mean he was asking how backing England might benefit Brazilian soccer? Who knows? We can all speculate. A courf of law or, indeed, FIFA's Ethics Committee has to go on facts.
All of this is not to suggest that the World Cup bidding process was entirely clean. Teixeira, Warner and Leoz have all been accused of major infractions in the past. (Google them if you don't believe me.) And, tellingly, their accusers have not been sued.
But this is FIFA we're talking about. And you know that for FIFA to actually commence a serious investigation and ban somebody (let alone folks as powerful as Teixeira or Warner), you need to have much more than a guy safely encased in a bulletproof parliamentary soapbox making vague accusations which can easily be denied.
Had Triesman been serious about this, he would have taken action much sooner. He could have collected evidence, perhaps arranged his own sting, maybe even pretended to go along with meeting these demands in exchange for exposing the corruption. Heck, he had the resources to do it. The England 2018 bid spent more than $30 million, some of that could have gone on a private investigator, some hidden cameras and a tape recorder or two.
But no, he did not. Why? Because, he says, he didn't want to jeopardize England's bid. I guess it did not occur to him that if people were asking him for kickbacks and he wasn't willing to play ball there may well have been other bidders who would play ball which meant that England's bid was doomed. I guess he felt that everybody else would turn down these alleged requests and, in the end, Teixeira, Leoz and everyone else would simply say "Oh, well.." and vote for England. Which, at the very least, suggests he's naive.
FIFA badly needs a revamp. It needs greater transparency so that the corruption is weeded out. And yes, unless you believe Adamu and Temari were the only ones in FIFA's history to solicit bribes, you have to admit the corruption is real and that there isn't enough oversight. But don't expect Triesman's testimony or that of the Sunday Times' guys to deliver it. It's too little, too late. And it was delivered from too safe a distance.