What a difference a year makes. If a week is a long time in politics, it is an eternity in football politics – and Blatter may have reflected thus philosophically when he returned to Durban recently.
Last year he was there for the World Cup semi-final between Spain and Germany, this year he was back as a member of the Olympic Committee that decided to send the 2018 Winter Games to PyeongChang, South Korea. In between, FIFA’s credibility has been shattered by the vote-rigging scandals which engulfed December’s 2018 and 2022 World Cup decisions and the subsequent presidency contest.
Jack Warner has since walked the plank rather than confront the Ethics Committee hearing over accusations of bribery collusion with Mohamed Bin Hammam and, in the meantime, two further power-brokers with feet in both FIFA and IOC camps are under investigation over other illicit payment allegations, with Issa Hayatou, president of CAF, and Joao Havelange, former long-serving FIFA president, both denying any wrongdoing.
In all of this there has been only one glimmer of good news for Blatter and his boys, and that was when the so-called “Qatar Whistle-blower” apologised for fabricating stories about the Gulf state’s 2022 World Cup bid success.
Indeed, the retaliatory behaviour of sacked media specialist Phaedra Almajid is one of the most devastating sports media hoaxes in years.
It’s been a bad time for large swathes of the media which swallowed Almajid’s lies about the Qatar bid having offered bribes to FIFA executive committee members Hayatou, Jacques Anouma and Amos Adamu. She also planted a fabricated story claiming that Qatar had been considering financial support for the Argentinian federation led by Julio Grondona, FIFA’s senior vice-president.
Of course Hayatou, Anouma and Grondona were members of the FIFA ExCo which, last December, awarded
the 2018 World Cup to Russia and 2022 finals to Qatar. Adamu, also a member of the ExCo, had been suspended weeks earlier on vote-rigging charges sparked by a separate investigation by The Sunday Times.
Qatar’s victory shocked many outsiders mainly because of the country’s small size, its lack of World Cup football pedigree and searing summer temperatures. Almajid’s “inventions” fed a constituency of
critics all too eager to believe the worst. They even included FIFA’s secretary-general Jerome Valcke. In an email exchange with Warner, the Frenchman had referred to Qatar having “bought” the World Cup.
The allegations even went as far as the British Parliament. The Sunday Times – owned, like the Wall Street Journal, by Rupert Murdoch – included them in a written submission to the Select Committee on Football Governance.
Almajid revealed to me that she had decided to make her retraction “because it is the right thing to do” and insisted she had not come under any outside pressure nor had she been offered any financial inducement.
She sent a statement of apology, accompanied by a sworn affidavit of the facts to FIFA, to the Asian confederation, to the African confederation, to the Qatar FA, to the Qatar World Cup 2022 Bid Committee and to the national associations of Cameroon, Ivory Coast and Nigeria.
Almajid told me: “I did something very wrong and I have to do everything I can to put the record straight. I have to clear my conscience and cannot live with these lies anymore and I am very sorry to everyone I hurt, especially all my colleagues at the Qatar bid.”
Qatar’s success in landing 2022 was a landmark achievement, but the wealth of disinformation – never mind Almajid – has been flowing ever since, prompting rebuttal after rebuttal.
First came verbal scuffles over whether the finals should be switched to a cooler, winter date; then whether Qatar should share the finals with its Gulf neighbours; then a suggestion that matches might be split into 30-minute thirds to cope with the temperatures.
The tone of bid CEO Hassan Al Thawadi in a TV interview suggested, for the first time, that the Qataris’ patience was beginning to wear thin.
How does he think Blatter feels?
By Keir Radnedge