Eighteen months ago, facing huge pressure to explain why it had given the next two World Cups to the least likely bidders, FIFA asked a former U.S. district attorney to investigate the process.
They released the results of his probe on Thursday. Well, sort of.
The investigator – Michael Garcia – prepared a more than 400-page report. FIFA refused to make that document public. Instead, they issued a 42-page summary prepared by their in-house counsel, Hans Joachim Eckert.
Before we get into that, let's speak plainly about what FIFA is – a money-laundering operation and a corporate succubus.
FIFA is not a business in the capitalistic sense. It produces nothing. Rather, it encourages other people to produce things – things they don't need and can't afford. In return, they pay FIFA for the privilege of being pillaged. It's a growth industry.
According to Eckert's summary, FIFA made $300-million (U.S.) from the 1998 World Cup. Last summer in Brazil, they made more than $4-billion.
All that's required to make this money is finding clients pliable enough to give you certain ridiculous accommodations – like tax-free bubbles around stadia, and exclusive marketing rights.
The host covers all the bills. Brazil forked over about $11-billion for improvements, including a $600-million stadium up in the middle of the jungle that hosted four games, and is rusting uselessly as we speak. The host also surrenders all opportunities to make money from the tournament.
FIFA – which has no real infrastructure beyond a very post-mod office in Zurich – gets it on both ends.
Very few sensible people are willing to go in for this sort of thing. The ones who still are – kleptocracies and proto-dictatorships – will pay just about anything for a chance to watch themselves in the world's mirror for five weeks.
You can see how this might be a fraught process. At this point, FIFA would like you to turn away.
The first problem with Eckert's summary – it's already been rejected by the man who's being summarized.
"Today's decision by the chairman of the adjudicatory chamber [Eckert] contains numerous materially incomplete and erroneous representations of the facts and conclusions detailed in the investigatory chamber's report," Michael Garcia said in a smouldering statement shortly after the summary was released.
This would be news if Eckert's conclusions were completely exculpatory. But in a comic twist only an organization as venal as FIFA could come up with, the attempted whitewash still tends to indict the winning bidders, Russia and Qatar.
Russia will host in 2018. There are widespread accusations that it bribed and colluded to vote rig with other nations.
Two things straight off. Garcia asked Russia for the computers it had used on the bid, and for its e-mail correspondence.
In the first instance, he was told that the computers had been destroyed. Not sold, or lost, or given away. They destroyed them. As you do.
As for the e-mails, Russia claims to have used a highly secure communications system we all know as Gmail. Gmail! Many of those e-mails have been lost. Russia asked Google to find them, but Google never called back. No, really.
The investigator asked another 2018 bidder, Japan, if they'd colluded with Russia. According to the report, multiple Japanese representatives admitted they had. Eckert then says, "However, no supporting evidence has been found."
Didn't they just admit it to you? Co-conspirator testimony is good enough to put guys on death row. But it's not good enough for FIFA?
The 2022 host, Qatar, is an even more delicious case. Early on, while explaining the bid process, Eckert notes that among nine total contenders, Qatar was the only one evaluated as a "high risk" bid. No one bothers to explain how they won it anyway.
The key figure in the bid is a disgraced Qatari FIFA executive named Mohamad bin Hammam. Bin Hammam is a vastly wealthy former head of the Qatari Football Assocation, and a former Qatari MP.
He was bribing people left and right – Caribbean FIFA officials, African officials. The report concludes that bin Hammam was buying them for his own run at FIFA president, rather than to win the world's most important sporting event for his native country. The rationale here is that all these small fry aren't on the FIFA executive committee, which casts votes for World Cup hosts. I suppose no one's heard of the idea of a cut-out, but whatever.
It also notes that bin Hammam gave $1.2-million to another disgraced executive, Jack Warner. Warner was on the executive committee.
That figurative brown envelope was delivered Dec. 15, 2010. Deflecting madly, Eckert waves it away. "According to the report, however, that misconduct does not appear related to the Dec. 2, 2010 FIFA World Cup vote."
A million bucks changing hands two weeks after the most unlikely PR coup in Qatar's history? Well, who could see anything strange in that?!
No wonder Garcia has blown a fuse.
If this is the scrubbed report, what in God's name does the real one look like? Are there photos of bid officials and FIFA execs sitting in hot tubs smoking thousand-dollar bills? Because I'm not sure how this can get any more damning.
Eckert has cleared the Russian and Qatari bids and closed the investigation. It's not yet clear if that was Garcia's intent, but it sure doesn't sound like it.
The most compelling portion of the summary may be its Orwellian conclusion. In essence – bad things happen; they can't be proved; C'est la guerre.
It says, in part, "To assume e.g. that envelopes full of cash are given in exchange for votes on a FIFA World Cup host is naïve."
No, it's even stupider than that. You wire-transfer the money, you 'lose' the e-mails, and when they ask you about it, you say, "What money?"
As an act of political cynicism, all we can say is 'Bravo'. It's almost comforting to know there are villains this cartoonish left in the world.