Football’s world governing body Fifa has suspended and fined two executive committee members from the 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosting vote after a corruption investigation.
But a further claim by British newspaper The Sunday Times that some bidding countries were guilty of collusion before the December 2 vote in Zurich was dismissed.
Fifa’s ethics court suspended Amos Adamu of Nigeria from all football activity for three years for agreeing to take bribes from undercover reporters from The Sunday Times who posed as lobbyists trying to buy votes.
Reynald Temarii, the Tahitian president of Oceania's confederation, was suspended for one year for breaching Fifa’s loyalty and confidentiality rules when he was secretly filmed in the undercover sting.
Four former Fifa executive committee members who had reportedly advised reporters how to bribe Fifa voters and how much to pay were also banned from all football activities for periods ranging from two to four years.
All received fines of SFr10,000 ($10,120), except for Temarii who was fined SFr5,000. All can appeal against the decisions.
Lawyer and former Swiss footballer Claudio Sulser, chairman of Fifa’s ethics court, told reporters in Zurich on Thursday that there were “not sufficient grounds” to back allegations that Qatar and Spain-Portugal had broken rules by colluding to exchange votes.
In a second round of Sunday Times revelations in October, Michel Zen-Ruffinen, former right-hand man of Fifa president Sepp Blatter, was shown telling reporters posing as lobbyists that Qatar and Spain-Portugal had arranged to secure seven of the 24 votes. A simple majority is needed to win.
The bidding contest for 2018 is between England, Russia and the joint bids of Belgium-Netherlands and Spain-Portugal. The 2022 race involves the United States, Australia, Japan, South Korea and Qatar.
“As long as I’m in the ethics committee, we will have a zero tolerance policy for all violations of standards,” said a tired-looking Sulser. “When you enter Fifa, you must accept certain obligations and one of those is found in the code of ethics.”
He added: “Fifa bears special responsibility to safeguard the reputation of football worldwide. We need to face these problems and not ignore them.”
The 14-member panel examined evidence and heard witnesses in a three-day session this week, using unedited videos and transcripts provided by the newspaper.
"The damage done to Fifa is very great," said Sulser, who also spoke out against the newspaper for "twisting the facts" by publishing edited interviews.
Thursday's rulings were delivered after a month-long investigation that Blatter insisted should “bring back credibility to football”.
But Jens Sejer Andersen, director of the independent sports watchdog, Play the Game, felt Thursday’s announcement had simply “raised more questions than answers”.
“This is a step forward, but it’s still very hard to have full confidence in Fifa as long as the ISL/ISMM case remains taboo,” he told swissinfo.ch.
Fifa's marketing partner, ISL/ISMM, went bankrupt in 2001 with huge debts. Legal proceedings in canton Zug uncovered a series of kickbacks worth SFr138 million, some connected to Fifa. But the proceedings, which took place between 2005 and June 2010, were settled with compensation payments from the accused parties without an admission of guilt.
Denis Müller, ethics professor at Geneva and Lausanne universities, described Thursday’s decisions as “correct” but “minimalist”.
“If the sanctions are confirmed after appeal, I don’t see why a top official shouldn’t receive a life ban,” he told Swiss national radio, while questioning the independence of the ethics panel.
“It was an individual decision, but you cannot judge whether corruption is structural at Fifa. There are no guarantees whether decisions over the forthcoming World Cups will be exempt from corruption.”
World Cup vote
Fifa’s executive committee is due to hold an emergency session on Friday to decide what action should now be taken following the suspensions.
Blatter has already said Fifa will vote as planned on December 2 on the venues for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. With Adamu and Temarii suspended, 22 Fifa ruling committee members – instead of 24 – will vote in the World Cup secret ballots.
Switzerland is host to about 40 international sports federations such as Fifa, its European counterpart, Uefa, and the International Olympic Committee. Such bodies are granted tax breaks and flexible legal terms that allow them to govern their own affairs.
As the Fifa scandal has escalated, Swiss Sport Minister Ueli Maurer has asked the Federal Sport Office to re-examine the issue of corruption in sport and to check the Swiss legal framework governing sports federations, which critics say is very light.
How the scandal evolved
The alleged bribery scandal that has enveloped Fifa revolves around the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
An article in the British Sunday Times on October 17 alleged that two top Fifa executives – Nigerian Amos Adamu and Tahitian Reynald Temarii – had offered to sell their votes to undercover reporters, who were secretly filming the meetings.
The paper had video showing Adamu requesting $800,000 (€580,000) to build four artificial football pitches in Nigeria, and for the money to be paid to him directly. Temarii was filmed appearing to ask for NZ$3 million (SFr2.3 million) to fund a football academy in Auckland, New Zealand.
Fifa announced an immediate inquiry to be headed by its ethics commission – an independent judicial body set up in 2006 to enforce Fifa’s code of ethics and oversee the bidding process for hosting World Cups.
On October 18, the investigation was widened to look into the conduct of other Fifa officials. It also promised to probe rumours of collusions between member associations relating to the bidding process.
On October 20, Fifa’s ethics commission announced that it had provisionally suspended the two executives named in the Sunday Times report plus four other officials.
A full report will be submitted after the investigation is complete in mid-November.
On October 24 the Sunday Times reported that former Fifa secretary-general Michel Zen-Ruffinen had been secretly filmed saying Spain-Portugal and Qatar had struck a deal giving each seven votes from the 24-man Fifa executive committee which is choosing World Cup
Hosts. He was also was recorded suggesting Fifa voters could be bribed with offers of money or women.
Fifa executive members will meet in Zurich on December 2 to decide by secret ballot which countries will host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
England, Russia, Spain/Portugal and Belgium/Netherlands are bidding to host the 2018 World Cup while Japan, South Korea, Australia, United States and Qatar are candidates for 2022.