When FIFA’s new chief ethics investigator Cornel Borbely took over back in March, he insisted he would not be influenced or sidetracked by anyone within the heirarchy of football’s world governing body when it came to making independent decisions.
Borbely, who had previously been Michael Garcia’s deputy, said no-one at FIFA, from the top down, would tell him what to do and that he would have his “eyes and ears open”.
Harold Mayne-Nicholls can testify to that.
Of all the sanctions imposed by FIFA in the past few months for various misdemeanours, the seven-year ban from all football-related activity meted out to Mayne-Nicholls has arguably raised the most eyebrows.
Neither the ethics committee nor Mayne-Nicholls have given details of exactly how the former Chilean FA chief broke the rules during the course of his role as head of the FIFA technical inspection team that assessed all nine candidates for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. But the fact that the accused has pledged immediately to appeal rather than mull it over speaks volumes about the way he feels he has been treated by Borbely and by Hans-Joachim Eckert, who runs the adjudicatory side of the ethics committee.
The suggestion in some quarters that the ethics case against him was linked to Mayne-Nicholls considering whether to run for FIFA president against Sepp Blatter in May (he ultimately decided against it) is probably something of a red herring. So what are the real reasons?
Unless it relates to something entirely different, the penalty almost certainly concerns conversations he had in 2010 – shortly before the ballot that gave Qatar the World Cup – about possible work placements for some of his closest relatives at the famed Aspire youth academy in Doha. Indeed, a leaked email said Mayne-Nicholls “repeatedly asked for personal favours … shortly after the inspection tour and prior to the issuance of the Evaluation Report on Qatar”.
The Qataris, mega-sensitive to western scrutiny about their credentials as World Cup hosts, sensibly turned down the request for fear of compromising their bid and giving the wrong impression.
Mayne-Nicholls may be sworn to silence pending his appeal but back in December he let it be known in no uncertain terms what he felt about being named as one of five individuals investigated as part of the World Cup anti-corruption probe prompted by Michael Garcia’s infamous report. He told Insideworldfootball at the time that FIFA had spent far too much “energy, money and time” on his case.
But FIFA’s ethics committee took the opposite view, clearly believing that his behaviour in asking for preferential treatment (even though it is understood he would have paid for the placements himself) called into question the integrity of his work as head of the technical inspection team – notwithstanding the fact that Qatar were placed bottom of the list in terms of suitability to host 2022 and were described in the evaluation report as a high-risk option.
As we know, Mayne-Nicholls’ views were ignored as Qatar swept to victory though he was certainly vindicated in the sense that 2022 has now been switched to winter.
One theory doing the rounds, though there is no evidence to support it, is that Mayne-Nicholls orchestrated cautioning against the Gulf state hosting the tournament as revenge for having his Aspire request politely turned down. Nevertheless, seven years will come as a shock to many. One assumes it includes Mayne-Nicholls having to halt running his own youth football foundation.
Many a FIFA official has been suspended for far shorter periods for seemingly more serious violations. Remember Amos Adamu, the former Nigerian FIFA exco member kicked out for what FIFA termed an ethics violation in relation to the votes for 2018 and 2022? He got three years.
One theory is that the punishment meted out to Mayne-Nicholls is just the start of a new wave of harsh sanctions, after several quiet months, to clean things up as part of the reform process in the post-Sepp Blatter era that will start in a few months’ time. No-one could argue against the need for such scrutiny in the wake of the stunning revelations contained in the FBI corruption probe into FIFA’s conduct.
Yet if that’s what we can expect it begs the question, will the ethics committee also soon make a decision one way or the other over the case of Spanish powerbroker Angel Villar-Llona, another of the five cited for alleged wrongdoing over the bid process but who seems able to jump through every hoop and was actually recently “promoted” to UEFA’s first vice-president?
Some of these investigations (not Michel d’Hooghe’s: FIFA’s Belgian medical chief was exonerated of any wrongdoing) have dragged on since November last year. It’s time they were completed. Otherwise, some might take the view that Mayne-Nicholls is simply being used as a scapegoat in order for FIFA to show the world it doesn’t need exterior bodies like the FBI to highlight corruption and that it has its own teeth – and knows how to sharpen them at the appropriate time.
Andrew Warshaw was formerly Sports Editor of The European newspaper and is chief correspondent of Insideworldfootball. Contact him at email@example.com