News filtering through across the Nullarbor at the end of last week, although not found with any of the news outlets in WA that the FFA had dropped its libel proceedings against Fairfax Media, should be a major concern to all stakeholders in the game.
It is understood that under the terms of the settlement agreement the FFA will meet its own costs. These are believed to be around $30,000, although unconfirmed as the settlement is supposed to be confidential.
This about turn now sees the game’s governing body accused of using the legal action solely to stop further bad headlines in the run up to last December’s World Cup bid.
The two journalists who broke the story in The Age newspaper, Richard Baker and Nick McKenzie were only recently awarded the Sports Story of the Year by the Melbourne Press Club, so this capped of a great month.
The Press club commented that their story “exposed ethical questions” about Australia’s World Cup bid and also “revealed questionable use of public money.”
The stories in The Age newspaper prompted investigations by FIFA and the Australian government. The Age alleged that:
FIFA Exco members received inappropriate gifts and hospitality, to a total value of $50,000
That the FFA secretly kept dual sets of accounts record-keeping for internal use and government reporting.
That two of its hired international bid consultants would earn as much as a quarter of Australia’s $46 million publicly funded bid budget.
The FFA denied the allegations, claiming that they were “unsourced gossip” with “no substance whatsoever.”
FIFA’s investigation cleared the FFA of giving gifts to Exco members. The FFA were also cleared by a government investigation into allegations of accounting irregularities, but the withdrawal of the court action appears to say that they were unable to fight to clear their name. Something most football fans would have loved to have seen happen to restore their faith in the hierarchy running the game.
Most fans know that the bidding process is questionable. Those same fans know that Australia was naive in its bidding. Having had Australia then bleat that the bid ‘was too clean,’ only to see such allegations not defended leaves far more questions unanswered than it does answered. What is more worrying is that such decisions slowly erode the faith that was shown with the new dawn of football. The game cannot afford any more embarrassments in the next 18 months.