No doubt about it, “The Establishment” – in political, industrial and sports circles – has no love of whistle-blowers.
Phaedra Almajid and Bonita Mersiades are merely the latest two victims to discover this, with their contributions to Michael Garcia’s World Cup bid scandal inquiry having been traduced publicly by ethics judge Hans-Joachim Eckert.
Maybe, as whistle-blowers, they should not have been surprised in a chauvinistic world such as international football governance. FIFA, after all, has only recently been forced to accept the tokenism of women on its executive committee.
Almajid and Mersiades were lumped together by Eckert in his 42-page summary of Garcia’s substantive report even though the context of their evidence, submitted with guarantees of anonymity, was very different.
Mersiades led communications for the Australian bid but was sacked after falling out with the CEO, Ben Buckley, over the contracting of consultants, including long-time FIFA fringe player Peter Hargitay. Part of the strategy to which Mersiades objected was the obsequious pursuit of then CONCACAF president Jack Warner through the flimsy use of “development support”.
Almajid, an Arab-American, was employed by the Qatar bid between May 2009 and March 2010 as international media specialist and worked closely with chief executive Hassan Al Thawadi. She was sacked abruptly after an international interview with bid ambassador Gabriel Batistuta backfired. Almajid subsequently alleged that Qatar had offered bribes to FIFA
executive committee members Issa Hayatou, Jacques Anouma and Amos Adamu, and had offered financial support for the Argentinian federation, led by Julio Grondona, FIFA’s senior vice-president.
In July 2011 she retracted her comments and submitted formal statements of apology.
However, Almajid later told Garcia that she had issued the retraction under duress and stood by her original version.
Both women talked to Garcia on condition of confidentiality. But they were the only two of the 70-plus witnesses who were rendered identifiable by Eckert in his summary. He did not name names, but by merely referring to them as whistle-blowers in relation to the two bids he opened up their identities to anyone with access to the Google search engine.
Why Eckert projected these two for easy reference was not merely unclear but also reprehensible, given that basic professional judicial conduct should have made him far more circumspect.
Almajid and Mersiades registered a joint complaint to FIFA’s disciplinary committee without success. Almajid duly raged that she felt “betrayed and denigrated for being courageous enough to come forward with critical information”.
She added: “My co-operation was based on your [FIFA and Garcia’s] promise of confidentiality. You have said that, ‘in the course of any investigation, [you are] bound by confidentiality’, and ‘also want to protect anyone who would wish to come to me in good faith’.”
This may not be – nor should it be – the end of the matter. Eckert, Garcia and FIFA president Sepp Blatter may one day have cause to recall the words of 17th-century English playwright and poet William Congreve: “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”
By Keir Radnedge