The ball is in Fifa's court to prove vote for 2022 World Cup venue was clean
Within five days the eyes of hundreds of millions around the world will turn to Brazil as the World Cup finals begin with the hosts playing Croatia in the opening game. In the background, however, a potential time bomb will be ticking, as American lawyer Michael Garcia starts writing up his report on shocking allegations of corruption in the vote to award the 2022 tournament to the Arab emirate of Qatar.
Garcia was appointed by Fifa, world soccer's governing body, as lead prosecutor to study all allegations of corruption. It's not clear whether he will have time to investigate a recent claim by Britain's Sunday Times newspaper to have evidence that about US$5 million was paid to officials in return for votes for Qatar's bid. He intends to wrap up his investigation in the coming week and expects to complete his report not long after the World Cup ends.
The Qatar allegations are the worst of a series that have tarnished Zurich-based Fifa's reputation and put its president, Sepp Blatter, under pressure over the last three years. In 2012, two leading Fifa officials were found to have taken millions in bribes from a marketing company. A year before, Caribbean soccer chief Jack Warner quit his international posts over alleged bribery. The same year, allegations about the Fifa presidential election resulted in a life ban on Asian Football Confederation president Mohamed bin Hammam.
The latest allegations - also involving bin Hammam - should be thoroughly investigated and, if wrongdoing is established, the 2022 World Cup should be taken away from Qatar pending a rerun of the vote. Given the affront this would give to Middle Eastern opinion, it is not a step to be taken lightly or without rock-solid proof. If Qatar is to keep the World Cup, Fifa has to produce a convincing and transparent answer to the allegations and demonstrate that anti-corruption and good- governance reforms Blatter introduced after his re-election are not merely cosmetic.