It has come as no great surprise to many that the long awaited report into the bidding to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cup football tournaments have resulted in embarrassment for Australia.
First of all let us acknowledge that FIFA needs to look closer to home if it is to wipe out such corruption. If its executive were not open to inducements then various bidding countries would not feel the need to try and affect the voting process with “gifts.”
Let us also acknowledge that Australia’s bid for the Olympic Games in 2000 saw the bid committee do all that hey could to influence those voting, including obtaining access to all of the rooms at the hotel that those voting were staying at and putting on their bed’s gifts from Australia. The aim being to keep Sydney in the forefront of their minds. When traffic in Sydney was raised as a stumbling block in their bid, whenever one of those bidding came to visit the city to make an assessment, in co-operation with the NSW Police a helicopter would be above the car in which the delegate was travelling and as they approached a set of traffic lights the helicopter would radio traffic control who would change the lights to green. Some would say you do what you have to do.
What is a grave concern to football fans in Australia and also non fans who are tax payers is that Government funds appear to have been used for illegal and unethical behaviour.
There should be an Australian government investigation into what actually transpired and current and former FFA Board members and staff should be held accountable.
Four years ago it was revealed that Fedor Radmann and Peter Hargitay were both hired to help bring the cup to Australia, were to receive up to $11.37 million in fees and bonuses by Football Federation Australia if the bid had been successful. Peter Hargitay was introduced to Frank Lowy Chairman of the FFA by SBS Television’s Les Murray who it was said was a personal friend. The latter defended the FFA when speaking on ABC radio in 2010 when he said “The government grant for the bid is somewhere around $36 million. I’m not sure what people presuppose that money is going to be spent on, but I’m assuming the people of Australia think that money is well spent on a strategy to get a successful bid to bring the World cup to Australia. In their wisdom, correct or otherwise, the FFA have decided that less than a quarter of that money is going to be spent on strategists and lobbyists who are very well equipped to perform the task (and) who are going to advise on the right strategy to get the bid over the line.”
In 2011 as part of FIFA’s 13-member ethics committee, Les Murray was called upon to rid the organisation of allegedly corrupt elements within its political framework. This morning on Melbourne’s SEN radio it has been reported in The Age that Mr Murray claimed ‘the Western countries may have been “a bit naive in the way they went about their business”, whereas “Qataris and the Russians, if they did in fact bribe people or did some inducements, they were very clever about it and kept it well hidden.”‘
At the time that news broke of the Australian inducements in 2010, which included gifts such as pearl necklaces and cuff links with a value of around $50,000, a spokesperson for the then Minister for Sport Kate Ellis was quoted as saying “Obviously the way the FFA spends government money is subject to the usual reporting and scrutiny requirements, any evidence to the contrary will be thoroughly investigated by the government, as would any alleged breach of the funding agreement.”
The then opposition leader, and now Prime Minister Tony Abbott who supported the bid to host the tournament said “I would like Australia to host the World Cup but I think we should win it on our merits and I certainly don’t think we should be greasing palms to succeed in this area.”
In 2011 former SBS reporter Jesse Fink who had raised questions about the Australian bid appeared on the ABC’s 7.30 report and claimed that he had received an email from Les Murray in his role of Editorial Supervisor at SBS sport which read, “”It is not a good look if we, SBS, the most powerful voice in football appear to talk down the bid or declare it stillborn. Given that the bid has great support in Australia, including enthusiastic support by all governments, my preferred editorial policy would be to support it.”
A year ago investigative journalist Andrew Jennings was highly critical of the FFA following a forensic report into for FIFA Executive Jack Warner revealed the FFA had handed close to half a million dollars to the head of CONCACAF. As Jennings asked then did Hargitay admit that he had for a long time been a paid consultant to Jack Warner? “When Warner pocketed Australia’s $462,000 – did Hargitay get a commission, a cut of the loot he had steered from Australia to the Caribbean crook?” he asked on his website.
Once again a lack of transparency from the FFA has let the sporting public of Australia, who believe in fair play, down. The Government did not instigate an investigation into the bid process at the time that Jack Warner was found to have taken almost half a million dollars in tax payer’s money, as an election was around the corner, and Frank Lowy and his Westfield Shopping Centre empire is a generous donor; Well why wouldn’t you be, when as revealed in a report in September that the Westfield Retail Trust and James Hardie, pay no tax at all in Australia.
Throughout this whole sorry bid process anyone who spoke out against the FFA attempts were made to silence them. Former Australian bid team member Bonita Mersiades was fired in early 2010 when it became clear she asked too many questions about the legitimacy of Hargitay, as well as why his son Stevie was receiving money. Some media outlets however still chose to tow the party line, rather than rock the boat.
It comes as no surprise that FIFA would highlight issues with Australia’s bid, as against the other nations who bid for the hosting rights Australia is a minnow, and can be made a scapegoat without harming the game as a whole. The truth is Australia tried to play with the big boys. Frank Lowy knows how to do that in big business, but football is a different game, and he and his team got it horribly wrong. There can be no excuses now, it is time that a thorough investigation is conducted into the whole bid process carried out by Australia, and that the tax paying public are made aware of who was paid what, by whom, and what was expected in return. After all $40million could have been put to great use here in Australia developing young talent. Having had such a large sum of money it seems crazy that only this year the FFA had to go cup in hand to FIFA for AUD$536,000 funding, through the FIFA Goal project, to obtain funding for two years ‘to deliver a National Women and Girls Football Development program,’ yet during the big process Hargitay persuaded the FFA to pay for a Trinidad Under-20 team to attend a training camp in Cyprus! Surely that is a mismanagement of funds?
It is time for a full scale independent investigation and some transparency into what really transpired.