An Australian sports administrator involved in the failed bid for Australia to host football’s 2022 World Cup said on Thursday the arrests of FIFA officials in Switzerland came as no surprise.
Swiss police arrested seven high-ranking FIFA (Federation Internationale de Football Association) officials during a dawn raid on a five-star Zurich hotel on Wednesday, as US authorities charged more officials of taking more than 150 million U.S. dollars in bribes.
Bonita Mersiades, a member of the Senior Management Team for the Australian 2022 World Cup bid that received just one vote from FIFA Executive Committee in 2010, said normal business practices were not followed in the “murky world” of FIFA. Instead, the organization was rife with “double-dealing” and a culture of corruption.
“My concern always was about the whole bidding process, anyone who spends too much time around FIFA knows that this is not an organisation that does business in a way that you would normally want to do business,” she told Melbourne radio station SEN on Thursday.
“We were almost running two bids, the one that was a public one where we would’ve hosted a fantastic World Cup if it was judged on its merits, and another one where there were these deals, counter-deals, double-deals and all these other things that go on in the murky world of FIFA,” she said.
She said former Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) president Jack Warner, one of the men arrested on Wednesday in Zurich ahead of the annual FIFA Congress, was central to the murky deals required for a successful bid.
“For reasons which are not entirely clear, one of our international consultants recommended that the Australian bid should give half a million dollars to the upgrade of a stadium in Trinidad and Tobago,” she said.
“That stadium was owned by Jack Warner and the money ended up in his personal bank account, and that was entirely what the whole system was vulnerable to.”
When asked about the difficulties she encountered in trying to expose this corruption, Mersiades said FIFA’s culture of silence stood in the way.
“Those who remain silent tend to get on,” she said. “Those who speak out are discredited, demeaned, disparaged. All sorts of things happen.”
Veteran football commentator Les Murray said the bidding process for the 2022 World Cup, which was awarded to the tiny desert nation of Qatar, needed to come under fresh scrutiny in wake of the arrests.
“There’s always been suspicion hovering around FIFA’s high places about corruption,” Murray told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) on Thursday.
“There has been suspicions, including by myself, for a long time about the propriety of Qatar’s victory because it was so bizarre, so unexpected, so inexplicable that there was simply no other explanation except some suggestion that some funny business was going on.”
Fellow Australian commentator Craig Foster said the decision to award Qatar was one scandal too many.
“It’s really been a crumbling house of cards,” Foster told the ABC on Thursday. “Out of that process there was so much corruption that ultimately the seams had to break and it’s just started to crumble and crumble.”
Mersaides said FIFA could only be cleansed of corruption with a total upheaval headed by people outside FIFA.
“I have been advocating with others around the world for an independent FIFA reform commission to come in and completely overhaul the organization and to review every aspect of it,” Mersaides said.
“It has to happen. Even governments now have to wake up to (the corrupt nature) because sport is where we get societal values from.”