FIFA’s Garcia Report: Reaction & Ridicule

by | Jul 5, 2017

So, disgraced Fifa ex-president Sepp Blatter is NOT a woman trapped in a man’s body. Prince William did NOT try to sell his place in-line to the UK throne to Qatar. And the repugnant Jack Warner is NOT one of the most repulsive human beings on the planet never to have committed murder. No, wait, that last one IS true.

What Fifa call the “Report on the Inquiry into the 2018/2022 FIFA World Cup Bidding Process (the so-called “Garcia Report”),” named after its primary author, the Fifa Ethics Committee (EthCo) Investigatory Chamber’s then “independent” chair, United States ex-attorney Michael J Garcia, has its moments, despite issues such as the “limitations on the Investigatory Chamber’s power to compel.” The chamber had “no subpoena power,” Garcia grimly noted. And, boy, did that show at times.

Not that he got huge joy out of those who did talk to him. “That answer turns ethics on its head,” he noted despairingly of one retort by Argentine former Fifa Vice-president, the late Julio Grondona. And there was the intermittently violent-sounding petulance of Spain’s misnamed Angel Maria Villar Llona. You can sense Garcia’s disbelief that Villar Llona’s “Fifa biography identifies him as a lawyer.”

And Garcia was never asked the fundamental question; WHY did Fifa’s Executive Committee (ExCo) award a World Cup to a country whose summer actually makes football impossible, UNLESS bribery was involved.

However, his report is undeniably, fundamentally flawed…with a screaming contradiction at its very heart.

The report was released last Tuesday, in hurried response to threats from German daily tabloid “Bild’s” Peter Rossberg to serialise its contents (more revelatory German journalism, although Fifa’s newly-appointed EthCo chairpersons, Colombia’s Maria Claudia Rojas and Greece’s Vassilios Skouris were about to release it anyway. And “for the sake of transparency,” Fifa welcomed “the news that this report has now been finally published.”

No…really. As Fifa stated last week, its release was “called for on numerous occasions by President Gianni Infantino” and was “supported by the FIFA Council since…May 2016.” And “despite these regular requests…former chairpersons of the Ethics Committee, Cornel Borbely and Hans-Joachim Eckert, had always refused to publish it.” Well, that last one is true, anyway.

Eckert had personal reasons for not publishing the report, of which he was secondary author as the Investigatory chamber’s “independent” deputy chair. His summary, issued on 13th November 2014 in response to widespread calls for full publication, was widely pilloried, not least by Garcia himself, who claimed it contained “numerous materially incomplete and erroneous representations of the facts and conclusions” and resigned from Fifa in protest on 17th December.

Yet there may have been legitimate reasons too. Borbely and Eckert claimed that “not publishing the report so far” was “completely in line with Fifa’s previous decisions” and its “applicable” rules. “As a matter of fact,” they added, the report is only a “working document.”

And they cited that world-renowned oxymoron, Fifa’s Code of Ethics (FCE), which prohibited “the publication of information that could be used in the course of a procedure.” The report referenced numerous recommended and ongoing investigations, confirming they were “in the course” of numerous “procedures.”

The full report may not have contained the proverbial “smoking gun” of lazy journalese. But it added important and intermittently entertaining details to the publicly-known headline findings and to Eckert’s summary, which still mostly reads like the whitewash it has long been labelled.

There are contradicting views on how true this is. The Guardian’s David Conn said Garcia’s “main findings largely tallied with the thrust of Eckert’s summary,” while admitting that “criticisms of…Blatter…were absent.” While Aaron Gordon of Vice Sports described “a 430-page condemnation” becoming “a 42-page everything is fine dot gif” in Eckert’s hands. “Eckert gutted Garcia’s report to the point where the two documents bear only passing similarities.”

Eckert was immensely detailed on undisputed background such as rules and structures, 34 report pages summarised in 19. It also fully repeated the uniquely-total exoneration of the “Belgium/Holland 2018 Bid” (which still beat England four votes to two). But Garcia’s other 396-and-a-bit pages were shoehorned into 23.

Qatar’s 123 report pages became four in summary, including his conclusion that “all-in-all” the “potentially problematic facts” concerning Qatar’s bid, were “not suited to compromise the integrity of the…bidding process.” Standard wording which applied to most bids (Japan’s was “not even remotely suited” to compromise any integrity).

Garcia said Blatter “must take responsibility for the failures that occurred on his watch” and lambasted him for failing to oppose $200,000 bonuses to each ExCo member, in December 2010, including two who “committed misconduct relating to the bidding process” and were “characterised” by “Blatter himself” as “’devils’ of the sport.” Eckert summarised these matters thus: “……………………………..” A quote he repeated IN FULL to summarise Garcia’s references to the Spain/Portugal bid.

However, much of the report was already public, with many subsequent high-profile ethics cases originating within its pages.

Garcia’s criticisms of Australia and England are valid. What the Guardian’s Barney Ronay wonderfully labelled “the abject quality of the FA’s toadying” excuses nothing. Nor does England’s quaint attempted bribery, compared to alleged (cough) Qatari bribery. Where Qatar was allegedly (cough) striking multi-million-dollar gas/oil deals, England was offering twin-village status to Longdenville, the village Warner suggested “helped make me whom I am today!” (they should sue).

Garcia’s exposure of Warner’s repugnancy is as valid. Lasana Liburd, the Wired868 website’s ever-excellent chronicler of Warner’s misdeeds, counted the repugnant one’s namechecks in the report. And Warner’s 349 appearances outnumbered other regular Fifa miscreants Blatter, Michel Platini, Issa Hayatou and Grondona. COMBINED.

Yet, Garcia’s investigation has never felt right. Proverbial waters were muddied from the origins of the investigation, Fifa’s referral to its EthCo of material which underpinned Sunday Times allegations of impropriety against Qatar’s bid. As Garcia’s report…er…reports: “This referral…of specific allegations of misconduct by a bid team led to the initiation of a preliminary investigation.”

However, consideration was almost immediately given to an “Expansion of the Inquiry,” to “include the conduct of the various participants in the bid process…given the importance of the general subject matter and the allegations of misconduct…raised by various parties since the vote.”

This expansion, though, exposed the report’s screaming contradiction. Had Australia and England kept their bids’ darkest secrets hidden by, to pluck a strategy entirely at random, offering a computer technology version of “the dog ate my homework,” they would have largely avoided criticism. Exactly the story cooked up evidenced evinced by Russia and swallowed whole accepted by the report’s authors.

Instead, the naïve fools “provided full and valuable co-operation in establishing the facts and circumstances of this case.” Garcia acknowledged that “to the extent that” both bids “may not have met (required) standards…culpability is mitigated by the fact that these issues were uncovered largely as a result of (their) co-operation.” In other words, they’d have gotten away with it, if it wasn’t for them pesky co=operators.

The report’s high/lowlights have been well-documented. The repugnant Warner grabbed headlines with his curious familial feelings towards his “banker’s son,” Richard Sebro, about whose employment he pestered England’s bid…actually…scrap that “curious” bit. Nothing curious about Warner regarding money as family. £2m payments to ten-year-old girls would grab headlines in any story, yet seem less remarkable, if no less sordid, when you involve perma-corrupt Brazilian chief Ricardo Teixeira (pronounced “fcuking crook”).

Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich’s involvement in Russia’s bid was predictable, even if its nature was as low-grade and scruffy as his clothes. A multi-billionaire supports the bid and they have to hire soon-to-be-obsolete computers from the “Konoplyov Football Academy,” a “football foundation [which] appeared to have been linked” with him? Right-o.

Reactions to the report have also been predictable. Repugnant Jack told the Times that “I continue to sleep very soundly at nights.” But without shame, a conscience or basic humanity, why would you lie awake? Especially when your self-delusion stretches to “nothing in the report implicates me personally in any sleaze.”

And his pig-ignorance is a given. He asked aloud “how come” Garcia, “the American investigator” had “absolved the US Soccer Federation? Was this not the same USSF that facilitated a visit to the White House for Sepp and me to meet Obama? How do you characterise that? But this is the US that I guess determines if you fall, live or die.” Garcia, of course, is “the same” investigator who, being American, “recused” himself from the investigation into the US 2022 bid, thereby not absolving the USSF at all.

Almost as Warner-esque was an article on Russian international TV network Russia Today’s website, with comments from “award-winning sports broadcaster Stan Collymore.” It suggested that “ex-Prime Minister David Cameron and Prince William” were “implicated” in a “World Cup corruption scandal.”

Garcia “alleges that the fate of England’s 2018 FIFA bid was decided at the highest level of the British government,” with Cameron and Willie “personally implicated in breaching FIFA ethics code by colluding with officials from South Korea, which sought to host the tournament in 2022.”

That neither PM nor prince were bound by Fifa ethics rules seemed to by-pass RT. As did the “collusion” being between England’s Fifa ExCo member Geoff Thompson, who admitted it, and Korea’s Fifa vice-president Chung Mong-Joon, who didn’t. Ethics “proceedings” were therefore “opened against Mr. Chung.” Only.

RT also overlooked the SIX (count ‘em) meetings between one V Putin esq of Moscow and the repugnant Warner, the repugnant Warner’s American partner in oh-so-many-crimes Chuck Blazer, the now-banned-for-life-from-football Mohammed Bin Hammam and…Chung Mong-Joon.

Apart from that, RT were spot-on.

No wonder Collymore was “angry as an Englishman that my home association, the country that I played for proudly, is dragged through the mire and all of those journalists and sports broadcasters that were very quick to put the boot into Russia and Qatar are now suspiciously silent.” Meanwhile “analyst” and (cough) “American nationalist” Mike Cernovich was cross to the point of incoherence: “Russians get scrutinized for doing the same things even when they don’t do it. Even when they are not guilty, they are going to be blamed for things that other countries actually do.”

File under “b*llocks.”

Less has been made, though, of three particularly jarring notes in the report, which read as if inserted by external instruction.

The first is an appalling attitude to two whistleblowers, echoed by the disgraced Blatter’s claims that “if you are a whistleblower, it is not correct.” Garcia dismissed their evidence, in their entireties, based on petty, irrelevant discrepancies and personal details which had no place in the report.

(This contrasts shamefully to the unquestioned credibility attached to then-Fifa Secretary-General Valcke’s contributions to the report, despite his dismissals by Fifa for financial irregularities both before AND since Garcia’s work).

Three pages are “devoted” to the “Australian Whistleblower” (AW), already well-known when Garcia finished his investigations as Bonita Mersiades, the Australian Football Federation (FFA) Head of Corporate and Public Affairs and an integral part of the Australian bid until she was dismissed in January 2010.

Garcia’s description of the “AW” clearly identified Mersiades, although she had already publicly identified herself by talking to the press about one interview with Garcia. This, not unreasonably, did not impress Garcia. And it formed part of his concerted but inexcusable effort to undermine the credibility of her evidence…which WAS credible. Many of the issues Garcia had with Australia’s bid were first raised by Mersiades.

Garcia also attempted to discredit her recall of events by comparing her paraphrasing of an email she sent five years previously with the actual email. Logic dictates that you use a prime example of deficient recall to highlight deficient recall. If this was a prime example, Garcia didn’t have much. And as a basis for dismissing Mersiades’ entire testimony, it was inadequate to the point of straw-clutching to fit a pre-determined narrative.

Mersiades knew what was in store for her reputation. She wrote in the Telegraph on 28th December 2014 that she expected “to be further trashed when Fifa releases its ‘legally appropriate’ version of the Garcia Report.”

Phaedra Almajid’s case was complicated by a pressurised retraction of her allegations against the Qatari bid, for which she was head of international media relations (Qatar threatened legal action which she could not afford to defend).

She told Garcia of a 2010 meeting in Angola, at which she alleged three African Fifa ExCo members were offered $1.5m each to vote for Qatar. But Garcia spent 22 pages trashing her credibility before revealing that she had misidentified the individual she claimed brought her to the meeting. He focused on personal details and conversations, framed in the report to imply highly personal misconduct, which was as un-necessary as it was grubby, sore thumb stuff alongside the rest of the report.

The second of the report’s jarring notes is the Mohammed bin Hammam-shaped hole in the credibility of its version of Qatar’s bid, a hole filled credibly by Heidi Blake and Jonathan Calvert’s terrific 2015 book “The Ugly Game,” in conjunction with which Garcia’s report should be read. Their evidence clearly revealed his surreptitious work for the bid. But the report “strongly suggests” this work was “designed to influence…votes in the June 2011 election for Fifa president,” in which he was, briefly, a candidate.

To support the narrative that Bin Hammam’s all-embracing corruption fed his presidential ambitions and definitely not, oh no, Qatar’s World Cup bid, Garcia references payments Bin Hammam made to leading football administrators worldwide, beyond the World Cup bid electorate. And he accepted, without corroboration, Qatar’s assertion that “unknown to the bid committee at the time” (2009-2010), Mr. Bin Hammam was laying the groundwork for his own campaign for Fifa president in 2011.

It has been forgotten that Garcia hurriedly shut down his investigation just as the Sunday Times were revealing evidence which shredded the theory that Bin Hammam was buying presidential votes and the Qatar bid’s claim (echoed in Garcia’s report) that he had “no formal or informal position” with them. This astonishing assertion was wholly at odds with bid chairman Sheikh Mohammed’s November 2010 description of Bin Hammam as “definitely” the bids’ “biggest asset” who had “always been advising us and always been by our side.”

That Bin Hammam had no formal position was obvious and ensured that, as Garcia’s report states, his “actions” were “not attributable to” the bid. But the idea that he had no role whatsoever was also contradicted by Fifa’s own lawyers in February 2012, during the myriad of proceedings against him, when they said he “played an important role in Qatar securing the 2022 World Cup.”

Garcia’s team protested that they still had “months” of work to do after Fifa Secretary-General Jerome Valcke said on 26th April 2014 that the report “should come now” and would be “best before the World Cup.”

Yet a month later, with the Sunday Times offering mountainous evidence of Bin Hammam’s pivotal bid role, Garcia said he would finish gathering material “by 9th June 2014” and would submit his report to the EthCo’s Adjudicatory Chamber in “approximately six weeks.” Thus, the report’s pre-prepared narrative went unchallenged by the clearest evidence that it belonged in the same tray as the afore-mentioned Russia Today article.

The report’s third jarring note is the treatment of Harold Mayne-Nicholls, the Chilean chair of the official Bid Evaluation Group, which produced a demonstrably honest report. Mayne-Nicholls’ indiscretions were undeniable, if minor. But Garcia trashes his reputation, with utterly flawed logic.

The Evaluation Report on Qatar may have been completely objective,” Garcia admitted. But that somehow didn’t “absolve Mr. Mayne-Nicholls for conduct that tainted the evaluation process.” This “conduct” was discussing some relatively inconsequential potential favours with Andreas Bleicher, the executive director of the “Aspire Academy for Sporting Excellence,” which Garcia acknowledged, was pulled into the orbit” of Qatar’s bid “in significant ways.”

The Mayne-Nicholls section is immediately followed by the “The Timing of the 2022 World Cup” section, where Garcia identifies “a failure to consider…the temperature in Qatar properly prior to the vote,” an omission somehow “aggravated” by Mayne-Nicholls being “compromised in his assessment of Qatar.”

Yet the Evaluation Group’s report stated: “The fact that the competition is planned for June/July, the two hottest months of the year in this region, has to be considered as a potential health risk for players, officials, the Fifa family and spectators and requires precautions to be taken.”

Garcia perhaps recognised one glaring flaw in the anti-Mayne-Nicholls narrative. The report shows Mayne-Nicholls happily agreeing to discuss Qatar/Aspire-based favours after the vote. Yet despite these potential favours, Mayne-Nicholls’ report appropriately trashed Qatar’s bid. And Garcia’s attempts to square that circle were uncharacteristically muddled.

He suggested Mayne-Nicholls’ “report may well have been harsher than it would have been had Qatar agreed to” one of Mayne-Nicholls’ requests. “Or, if Mr. Mayne-Nicholls interpreted Mr. Bleicher’s (suggestion that) such a benefit might be conferred after the vote, the report may have been coloured in Qatar’s favour.” So, despite repeated insistences that Mayne-Nicholls was “compromised” by his actions, Garcia simply didn’t know.

Garcia notes that Mayne-Nicholls once “suggested, in a manner not echoed in public comments he made about any other bid” that the “verdict about Qatar could go either way,” implying that this was improper. Garcia treats Mayne-Nicholls “in a manner not echoed” in “comments he makes about any other” protagonist. It is hard to avoid the same implication.

Grim stuff. But job done for Fifa. Russia’s World Cup isn’t threatened, by Garcia’s report anyway, although other matters may soon matter in that regard. Qatari “innocence” remains a thing, although other matters may soon matter etc…

Job done, too, for Fifa president, Gianni “baldy Blatter” Infantino. The timing of the report’s publication was dictated by the Bild “leak.” But it was handy for a president under expanding pressure over his personal ethics and those of “firing” senior ethics investigators amid rumours of senior investigations into his personal ethics. In fact, the “leak” couldn’t have been handier timed had the report reached Bild via a presidential photocopier.

Worthy of investigation, maybe. What’s that Michael J Garcia up to these days?

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