Andrew Warshaw: Eerie calm before the desert storm

Whatever transpires at the eagerly awaited gathering of FIFA’s top brass in Zurich on Friday, any decision to switch the 2022 World Cup in Qatar from the searing heat of the Gulf summer has suddenly taken on additional intrigue following the revelation that FIFA’s chief corruption-buster is stepping up his investigation into the entire bid process for 2018 and 2022 to find out what, if any, illegal shenanigans took place.

FIFA’s executive committee, in all likelihood, will back Sepp Blatter’s preference to move the 2022 tournament though no firm decision over the actual timing of an alternative date will be announced, leaving us none the wiser – until the culmination of weeks of further discussions – as to whether it will end up being November-December, January-February or even April-May.

But the disclosure in France Football magazine that FIFA’s ethics committee guru Michael Garcia will shortly be undertaking a so-called world tour to interview all nine candidates who bid for 2018 and 2022 to try and ascertain if any rules were broken has provided a timely backdrop to this week’s exco meeting at FIFA’s headquarters, serving only to deepen suspicion over the way the contenders went about their business in the build-up to the ballot three years go.

Amid an avalanche of negative reporting, fingers are already being pointed – not for the first time – at Qatar, the suggestion in some circles being that Garcia’s tour is simply designed to build a case against the 2022 hosts who have been the object of unproven allegations virtually ever since they launched their bid.

But having come up with nothing concrete so far, what is the point of Garcia’s trip? Is there something we are not being told? No doubt FIFA are forking out millions to facilitate the global fact-finding mission. Are they prepared to waste their money on an investigation that may ultimately prove fruitless, or has some new line of inquiry been uncovered that has prompted Garcia to suddenly step up his remit, starting next week with a visit to those who were part of England’s failed 2018 bid?

No-one in their right mind would deny that many unsavoury things went on during the bidding process. Sepp Blatter himself has publicly admitted that awarding the two finals on the same day was a mistake and will never be repeated. The fact that so many exco members have since either resigned or been thrown out proves the point.

The problem for Garcia, however, is drawing a clear distinction between what is legitimate promotion, albeit sometimes uncomfortable schmoozing, and actions that violated FIFA’s strict bidding terms and conditions.

Few, if any, of those summoned to meet Garcia as part of his escalated probe are likely to have actually been in the room on that infamous day in December, 2010, when Qatar caused the biggest upset in World Cup bidding history. They may say “so and so promised to vote for us and then kicked us in the proverbials” but what clear evidence of wrongdoing can they provide?

Unless….

InsideWorldFootball has seen a copy of the entire 67-page bid registration document that went to all nine bidding nations for 2018 and 2022. The detailed text states that representatives “shall refrain from attempting to influence members of the FIFA executive committee or any other FIFA officials.”

It adds, in Annexe 7, that all the bidding nations are banned from “any kind of personal advantage that could give the impression of exerting influence, or conflict of interest, either directly or indirectly, in connection with the bidding process.”

Most significantly of all, on the penultimate page, it urges bidding nations to “refrain from collaborating or colluding with any member association or other third party with a view to unfairly influencing the outcome of the bidding process.”

Everything, of course, is open to interpretation but these are the type of clauses which, one assumes, Garcia will focus on. Tough call. If collaboration and political interference are barred, you may as well throw the book at a good many of the candidates (if not all). Furthermore, any deals that were struck – and we know it happened – may have gone against the spirit of the bid registration document but proving they went against the wording could be more difficult.

Which brings us back to the immediate issue of the day in Zurich on Friday. When Blatter and his executive committee sit down to grapple with the problem of exactly when to stage the 2022 World Cup, the implications of whatever they decide will have far-reaching consequences, again as a result of what is stated – or rather NOT stated – in the bid registration document.

“The final competitions of the FIFA World Cup are scheduled to take place as follows: the 21st edition in June and/or July 2018; the 22nd edition in June and/or July 2022,” the document says.

Key to this is the definition of the word “scheduled” and whether Fifa can justifiably (let alone linguistically) hide behind such terminology. Just as important is the fact that the expression “in principle” in terms of the World Cup being staged in summer – words used by Blatter and others to justify considering a switch – are absent from the text.

Those against a one-off shift to the northern hemisphere winter believe they can point directly to the bid registration document to back their case. Hence, for instance, the call by Australia for compensation on the basis that the competitive nature of the bidding process – in other words that they were all lobbying for a traditional June-July World Cup – was distorted.

As so often, the devil is in the detail and, as I say, is open to interpretation. But any change of date would, as many have remarked, potentially invalidate deals done with broadcasters, especially those in the United States. There are, in fact, a whole myriad of complex issues Blatter and his inner sanctum will have to address when they sit down for the two-day exco meeting beginning on Thursday before the FIFA president takes on the world’s media at a press conference 24 hours later.

The fact is that ultimately 14 members of FIFA’s exco – albeit a very different make-up to today’s composition – ignored the recommendations of FIFA’s own inspection report group which ranked Qatar second from bottom among the five contenders for 2022. Blatter himself wasn’t one of them. By all accounts he voted for the United States over Qatar in order for China to be Asia’s next host, possibly in 2026, rather than the tiny Gulf state four years earlier.

The whole process was flawed from the start. Hence the decision, as part of FIFA’s much-trumpeted reform process, to allow its entire 209-nation membership to choose future World Cup hosts, not that this will be easy either.

Hence, too, today’s furore over the whole winter-summer Qatar debacle. Now it’s up to the new-look exco to try and come up with a compromise solution that will satisfy the majority of stakeholders – clubs, leagues, national associations, broadcasters and, last but by no means least, the failed bidders.

As I said earlier, extensive further discussions with all those involved seems likely to be the outcome (some would suggest a fudged one) but sooner rather than later an actual replacement date will have to be reached.

Unless (that word again) there is some Machievellian plot for Garcia to complete his work first, just in case he comes up with explosive fresh evidence that requires a revote and prevents Qatar staging the World Cup at all – winter, summer or any other time.

Which is, of course, exactly what certain among their opponents would like to happen whether they admit it or not.

Andrew Warshaw is chief correspondent of insideworldfootball. Contact him at moc.l1713608882labto1713608882ofdlr1713608882owedi1713608882sni@w1713608882ahsra1713608882w.wer1713608882dna1713608882.