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Was there any point to the Garcia Report?

Thursday 29th June 2017
News flash. The bidding for the 2018 and '22 World Cups was rife with corruption. The 2014 Garcia Report, which FIFA refused to release in full until it was leaked to German news outlet Bild on Monday, confirms it. With the cat out of the bag, FIFA officially released the full document a day later. As Garcia's investigation was an exercise in the obvious from its outset, three years ago, it's rumoured FIFA will now release further reports confirming neither Santa Claus nor the Easter Bunny exist. Inquiries regarding the Tooth Fairy are allegedly still ongoing.

Here's the thing. Is there any point to investigating corruption in the World Cup bidding process? The process has never been transparent. Who can say exactly what FIFA's criteria are for a host nation, or, these days, nations? It's never spelled out. So what's corrupt?

The game being embedded in an applicant's culture has never been an issue. Else, the United States and Qatar would never have been awarded tournaments. Pre-existing stadia and infrastructure are not a prerequisite, or South Africa would have been excluded. Economic and political stability aren't concerns, otherwise drug-ravaged, civil war-mired Colombia would never have been put in the position where it needed to be bailed out by Mexico in 1982.
If a rational process for determining hosts existed, only a handful of nations would qualify as solitary hosts. New FIFA boss Gianni Infantino's innovation, co-hosts, would only be applied to include smaller countries. It would not be used to create unwieldy, logistically challenging (for supporters, especially) continental bids, such as the one being assembled by Canada, Mexico and the US. A process in which the Yanks and Canucks join to compete against Mexico and some neighbouring Central American nations, Costa Rica, El Salvador and Honduras, for example, would be more sensible.

Hosting rights have always been for sale, just not necessarily to the highest bidder, or the most logical. FIFA has always invited bidders to impress them, opening the door to corruption.

Part of the problem, even in today's world, is one society's corruption has been another's accepted business practice for centuries. In the West, refusal to offer bribes demonstrates integrity. In other regions, offering gifts proves the bidder has both the necessary wealth and commitment to host the competition.

When two tournaments are being bid on simultaneously, one morality views trading votes as unfair whereas the other sees 'you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours' as an effective business strategy. Given England engaged in the latter practice with South Korea, moral differences are probably divided along philosophical rather than cultural lines, but it's important to remember FIFA's board is populated with members from every confederation.

Philosophies and cultures notwithstanding, the ideal is for bidding to be conducted on a level playing field. Yet, how can that be done when FIFA itself changes the rules with each process? And how can FIFA mandate integrity when the game itself is played under selective officiating from league to league? The organisation has long repeated the lie that football is played everywhere by the same rules. Not so.

In La Liga, for example, diving is a traditionally admired tactic and hard tackles are unprofessional. In the Premier League, it's reversed. Tackling is part of the game but simulation is cowardly. Each league's referees officiate according to those respective beliefs. Should Chelsea meet Barcelona in next season's Champions League, one team or the other would have an unfair advantage if the assigned match official happened to be Portuguese or Serbian. Better an Italian referee, considering Serie A embraces both practices, or a German, who would tolerate neither.

Allowing individual leagues to evolve their own playing styles offers greater variety, which is good. Continually altering bidding processes is not. If FIFA wishes to avoid future versions of the Garcia Report, it must standardise its World Cup bidding process. Rotating through Confederations would be optimal, with Australia and New Zealand mandated as automatic partners for Oceania, even though the Aussies currently compete in Asia. The AFC, CAF, Conmebol, CONCACAF, and UEFA, could then work out their own rotations. With qualifying criteria set in stone and profits distributed in a predetermined manner, bidding, and therefore bribery, wouldn't even be necessary.
Martin Palazzotto

The former editor of World Football Columns, Martin authored the short story collection strange bOUnce. He appeared in several other blogs which no longer exist. Old, he likes to bring out defunct. If outdated sport and pop-cultural references intrude on his meanderings for It's Round and It's White, don't be alarmed. He's harmless.

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