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New graft claims overshadow World Cup vote build-up

More 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 for the Swiss city of Zurich ahead of Thursday’s two announcements, fresh media allegations even prompted a call 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 International Olympic Committee.

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

International Sports and Leisure (ISMM/ISL) collapsed in 2001 in a controversy over alleged kickbacks for TV rights contracts.

Although FIFA dropped a criminal complaint, a Swiss court handed down fines for embezzlement or false accounting on three of the company’s executives in 2008 while prosecutors revealed a trail of suspect payments.

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

The International Olympic Committee 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.

But FIFA insisted on Tuesday that the ISMM/ISL “investigation and case are definitely closed,” without convictions of FIFA officials.

The anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International has called on FIFA to postpone the bidding contest pending an independent probe, warning that FIFA’s decision making processes were being discredited.

Leaders of England 2018 bid fear the BBC documentary would undermine their chances.

Trying to limit the damage, British Prime Minister David Cameron was on Tuesday 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.

Other nations were also engaging on a lobbying offensive in Zurich’s plush hotels.

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 those reports, Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko told reporters: “We would certainly like these alliances and collusions not to happen.”

FIFA president 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 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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