Australia’s football chiefs on Tuesday rejected suggestions they acted improperly during their bid to host the 2022 World Cup after the “development” grants they gave to corruption-riddled overseas football bodies were questioned.
Bonita Mersiades, the corporate affairs head for Football Federation Australia when the bid race was run, claimed that handing out the grants was similar to the allegations against a leading Qatari football official.
Britain’s Sunday Times has alleged that Mohamed bin Hammam, a former FIFA vice president from Qatar, paid more than US$5 million to officials around the world before the 2010 vote to drum up support for the tiny Gulf state.
Qatar was controversially awarded the 2022 event. The nation’s World Cup organisers deny any wrongdoing.
Mersiades told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that questions also needed to be asked about Australia’s bid.
“Some of the evidence published in relation to Qatar was that some of the money was given to development projects — we gave money for development projects, we gave US$4 million to the Oceania Football Confederation for sports development,” she said.
“That was via the government, in and of itself there was nothing wrong with sports development projects, but the question for Michael Garcia was, was there a vote attached to it?” she added, referring to the US lawyer heading a FIFA corruption probe.
“If the answer to that is yes, then it’s very hard to argue that that activity is very much different from what Bin Hammam is alleged to have been doing.”
– ‘Transparent and proper’ –
Football Federation Australia denied it had done anything wrong.
“Australia’s activities throughout were transparent and proper,” it said in a statement.
“FFA sought to align its activities with the Australian government’s broader international aid objectives and in areas of focus for government aid programmes, namely Oceania, Asia, Africa and the Caribbean.
“In each case, these activities were conducted with proper due diligence, including an assessment of the proposed project, recording and documentation.”
In the original December 2010 contest to host the tournament, Qatar received 11 votes, South Korea four, the United States and Japan three each and Australia one in the first elimination round.
Qatar went on to beat the United States 14 votes to eight in the fourth round.
Mersiades said people in football organisations around the world had allegedly received money from Bin Hammam, including Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Caribbean.
“Certainly, the people that Australia was giving money to were very much similar to the people Bin Hammam was giving money to,” she told the ABC.
“Jack Warner was one of the key ones. Whenever FIFA corruption comes up, so does Jack Warner’s name.”
Warner, a former influential FIFA vice-president, resigned from all football posts in 2011 after he was accused of facilitating bribes to members of the Caribbean football union (CONCACAF) on behalf of Bin Hammam.
In 2013 a damning report by CONCACAF said a US$462,000 donation the FFA made to the Caribbean soccer organisation as part of its 2022 bid — to improve a centre of excellence — was allegedly stolen by Warner.
The FFA said Tuesday it only became aware the donation had allegedly been misused when the CONCACAF report came out. It said the matter was being dealt with by Garcia.
“FFA provided information to Mr Garcia and cooperated fully with him,” it said. “FFA is awaiting the outcome of Mr Garcia’s inquiry before taking further action.”
The top US lawyer said on Monday his investigation would be completed by June 9.