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Graft claims overshadow World Cup vote build-up

Fresh corruption claims dogged FIFA on Tuesday, only two days before it picks the 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosts, as Olympics chiefs vowed to probe one of their own officials caught up in the allegations.

As prime ministers and royalty headed to the Swiss city of Zurich ahead of Thursday’s two announcements, allegations contained in a new documentary prompted calls for football’s world governing body to postpone the decision.

And Russia, one of the frontrunners to stage the 2018 tournament, railed against the move to award two tournaments in one go, saying it encouraged collusion.

The final decision will be made in a ballot among the 22 members of FIFA’s executive committee on Thursday, the first time the hosts of two tournaments had been chosen at the same time.

A report by the BBC late Monday alleged three committee members — Ricardo Teixeira of Brazil, African football chief Issa Hayatou and South America’s Nicolas Leoz — received secret payments from a marketing firm over a decade ago. Hayatou is also a member of the IOC, which oversees the Olympic Games.

Panorama also accused a fourth FIFA executive committee member, Trinidad’s Jack Warner, of attempting to sell World Cup tickets on the black market.

The programme said it had obtained a confidential document from International Sports and Leisure (ISL), which detailed 175 payments totalling 100 million dollars made between 1989 and 1999.

Many of the payments were funnelled to front companies set up in Liechtenstein, Panorama alleged, with much of the cash eventually being paid to a “handful” of FIFA officials.

The ISMM/ISL firm collapsed in 2001 in a controversy over alleged kickbacks for TV rights contracts, prompting a FIFA criminal complaint that was later dropped.

The new allegations come only weeks after FIFA suspended two other executive committe members following a British newspaper report on vote buying opportunities in the bidding process.

Following the allegations, the IOC said on Tuesday that it would examine any evidence of corruption.

“The IOC has taken note of the allegations made by BBC Panorama and will ask the programme makers to pass on any evidence they may have to the appropriate authorities,” the Swiss-based body said in a statement.

“The IOC has a zero tolerance against corruption and will refer the matter to the IOC Ethics Commission,” it added, without specifically naming Hayatou.

The anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International called on FIFA to postpone the bidding contest “until full light is shed on the allegations”.

“These have brought such discredit to the decision-making processes at FIFA that a decision in the current circumstances would only fuel the controversy,” it added.

Leaders of the bid by England to stage the 2018 tournament have vented their anger at the BBC for airing the documentary so close to the decision, fearing it would undermine their chances.

Trying to limit the damage, British Prime Minister David Cameron was on Tuesday to lobby Warner, head of the North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) region.

As well as the British premier, England officials will have support from heir to the throne Prince William, due to meet FIFA delegates on Wednesday, and English football icon David Beckham.

Russia is also vying for the 2018 tournament, but it faces strong competition from a joint Spain-Portugal bid which has been at the centre of allegations of collusion with 2022 hopefuls Qatar.

Asked about the reports of a stitch-up involving Qatar and Spain-Porgtual, Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko told reporters: “We do not support the idea of any alliance or collusion.

“We would certainly like these alliances and collusions not to happen,” added Mutko, who also sits on the executive committee.

The president of FIFA, Sepp Blatter, has admitted that with hindsight the decision to make a joint decision may have been a mistake.

Eight of the nine nations vying for the two World Cups have representatives on the 22 strong executive committee that will vote for the hosts in secret ballots on Thursday. Australia is the only potential host without a vote.

Tue 30 November, 2010
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