A corruption investigation into the decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar is about to conclude. Any damning findings may see the hosting rights stripped from Qatar, and potentially awarded to Australia.
On 2 December 2010, FIFA President Sepp Blatter announced that Qatar had been selected to host the 2022 World Cup, marking the end of a protracted bidding process lasting almost 24 months. Qatar had emerged victorious in a hotly contested field, seeing off rival bids from Japan, South Korea, the United States and Australia.
Almost immediately after the decision was announced, allegations began to surface that Qatar had paid a number of bribes in order to secure the votes needed to win the hosting rights to the tournament.
The FIFA Ethics Committee launched an internal investigation, led by Michael Garcia, former US Attorney for the Southern District of New York and now head of that committee.
The scrutiny placed on Qatar climaxed in spectacular fashion in June this year, when the UK’s Sunday Times published leaked documents suggesting Qatari official Mohammed bin Hamman paid more than $5 million in order to secure support for Qatar’s bid.
The allegations prompted key sponsors Sony, Adidas, Coca-Cola, Visa and Hyundai/Kia to publicly place pressure on FIFA to deal with the issue, with Coca-Cola stating that “anything that detracts from the mission and ideals of the FIFA World Cup is a concern to us.”
Garcia was scheduled to finalise his report on the investigation last month, but has now delayed it until September, perhaps to give him time to investigate the matters revealed by the Sunday Times story. Garcia has stated that the report will be broad and will “consider all evidence potentially related to the bidding process.”
Once complete, the report will be handed to German judge Hans-Joachim Eckert, the head of the FIFA Ethics Committee’s Adjudicatory Chamber. If the corruption allegations are substantiated, Qatar could be stripped of the rights to host the tournament, and consequently the bidding process may be reopened in some form.
AUSTRALIA A CHANCE TO HOST THE 2022 WORLD CUP
As speculation mounts over the contents of Garcia’s report, some high-profile football identities have already called for Qatar to be stripped of its hosting rights. Peter Goldsmith, the former UK Attorney General and now a member of FIFA’s Independent Governance Committee, has publicly stated that “if these allegations are shown to be true, then the hosting decision for Qatar has to be rerun.”
While the Football Federation of Australia (FFA) has not confirmed that Australia would participate in any new bidding process, an FFA spokesman (and a master of understatement) has stated they are “keenly interested in [FIFA’s] response.”
KEY LEGAL ISSUES
There are a number of legal issues that the Australian government and the FFA may now need to consider ahead of Garcia’s findings. These include:
- If Garcia makes adverse findings about Qatar’s bid, but the FIFA Adjudicatory Chamber does not strip Qatar of the World Cup hosting rights, Australia could appeal to a FIFA Appeals Committee or ultimately the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Any appeal would presumably be based on the argument that any adverse findings require a reopened bidding process.
- If, despite adverse findings and any appeal, Qatar retains the hosting rights, Australia may seek to recover some or all of its investment in the bidding process from FIFA. The Australian government is already contemplating legal action to recover the $42.25 million it invested in the initial bid.
- If Qatar is stripped of the World Cup and the bidding process is reopened, this will raise questions about how the reopened bid should take place. Australia might make submissions to FIFA seeking to have any reopened bidding process confined to countries that submitted bids for the initial vote on the basis that the significant sums of money expended by countries involved makes it unfair to allow other countries to submit bids.
- Australia will need to be prepared to address any adverse findings Garcia makes in relation to its unsuccessful bid. Garcia has said that the scope of his report will be broad and there has been some speculation that the unsuccessful bidders’ conduct will come under scrutiny. The implications of any adverse findings will be relevant to deciding whether to submit another bid in any reopened process. In the event that Garcia makes adverse findings against Australian officials, then those officials may face prosecution under the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth) or the anti-bribery and corruption laws of other jurisdictions.