More claims of graft in world football marred the final stages of the race to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups on Tuesday, as Olympic chiefs vowed to probe one of their own officials caught up in the allegations.
The renewed allegations and action by the International Olympic Committee failed to dampen an intense lobbying drive by British prime minister David Cameron in Zurich to woo support for England’s 2018 bid ahead of Thursday’s vote.
But a spokesman for Vladimir Putin said that the Russian premier would follow in his rival’s steps, as officials from Russia 2018 suggested that the members of the FIFA executive committee had already made up their mind.
The final decision will be made in a secret ballot among the 22 top footballing officials on Thursday, the first time the hosts of two tournaments had been chosen at the same time.
England, Russia and joint bids from Spain and Portugal and Holland and Belgium are competing for the 2018 World Cup, while Australia, the United States, Qatar, Japan and South Korea are bidding for the 2022 tournament.
The allegations surrounding suspect payments more than decade ago for FIFA’s veterans have cast a shadow over the competition for votes, forcing executive committee member and African football chief Issa Hayatou to reject the claims.
Hayatou is also a member of the International Olympic Committee, which has vowed “zero tolerance” for corruption.
A report by the BBC late Monday alleged newly-surfaced evidence showed three committee members – Hayatou, Ricardo Teixeira of Brazil and South America’s Nicolas Leoz – received secret payments from a marketing firm that collapsed in 2001.
Hayatou on Tuesday told broadcaster France 24 that the firm, International Sports and Leisure (ISMM/ISL), had made a 25,000 Swiss franc “solidarity” payment “in the context of the organisation of the African Football Confederation’s 40th anniversary.”
Hayatou said he had “no fears” that the affair would spill over and affect the attribution of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, adding that his conscience was clear.
Nonetheless, fellow Olympic chiefs on Tuesday moved to examine any evidence.
“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.
FIFA insisted on Tuesday that the ISMM/ISL “investigation and case are definitely closed,” without convictions of its officials.
Although FIFA had dropped a criminal complaint over alleged kickbacks for TV rights contracts, in 2008 a Swiss court handed down fines for embezzlement or false accounting on three of the ISMM/ISL executives while prosecutors revealed a murky trail of suspect payments.
Only weeks ago, FIFA suspended two other executive committee members following a British newspaper report on vote buying opportunities in the bidding process.
Leaders of England 2018 bid fear the new BBC documentary would undermine their chances.
In a high powered attempt to limit the damage, Cameron was lobbying Warner, head of the North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) region, regarded as lynchpin in the vote.
“I’ve only got one focus here and that’s trying to bring the World Cup home for England,” Cameron told the BBC.
England officials will also have support from heir to the throne Prince William, due to meet FIFA delegates on Wednesday, and English football icon David Beckham.
Russia, the bookmakers’ favourite, is also vying for the 2018 tournament, but a spokesman for Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin said in Moscow that he does not intend to visit Zurich ahead of Thursday’s vote.
Eight of the nine nations vying for the two World Cups have representatives on the executive committee that will vote for the hosts, including England and Russia. Australia is the only potential host without a vote.