In case you hadn’t noticed, the ‘Garcia Report’ was released this week after lurking in locked drawers of desks in Zurich, Sydney, Munich and New York where the few people who were supposed to have a copy kept it. Sepp Blatter even sneaked one home from the office before he left, I’m led to understand.
As time went by, from when it was completed around September 2014, more copies were passed to more people. It was inevitable that someone would, eventually, leak it. They did to the German newspaper BILD and to a journalist who is not a regular sports writer. Make of that what you will.
FIFA then did what many organisations would do faced with this situation – they published it themselves. 33 months after its completion. And 16 months after Gianni Infantino, who now wants us to believe this is what he fought for all along, has been in charge.
Lots of people have pored over it and written about it.
I want to focus on one aspect. What a supposedly respectable former prosecutor, and now Judge, did to two women whistleblowers, Bonita Mersiades of Australia and Phaedra Al-Majid who worked for the Qatar bid.
Let me declare also that I know one of them, the Aussie, very well. Bonita is a co-founder of #NewFIFANow with Damian Collins and me. I consider her a mate.
But I won’t get personal. I’ll look at the evidence starting with Australia.
First, Garcia said that he did not rely on anything that Bonita told him, or any documents she gave him, unless they could be “obtained through reliable channels.”
One example he gives of her alleged unreliability is that she failed to recall precisely an email he asked about, that she had written more than four years beforehand. He justified his point by comparing what she told him in November 2013, with one paragraph of an email from July 2009. He didn’t mention there were six or seven other paragraphs to that email, didn’t put the context of the discussion, and didn’t let her know his opinion to allow her to respond.
Second, he then chronicled a litany of inappropriate (and I’m being extraordinarily kind using that adjective) behaviour by the Australian bid team and its consultants. These include:
- A deal before the bidding phase began, but when Australia knew that they would bid, with the German FA that goes to the heart of the integrity of the Australian bid.
- An agreement for Australia to withdraw from bidding for the 2011 Women’s World Cup, leaving Germany more-or-less a free run at it (they hosted it), in return.
- The relationship between FIFA executive committee member Franz Beckenbauer and consultants engaged by Australia who happened to be his ever-present offsider Fedor Radmann and his mate Andreas Abold – all Germans.
- The engagement and conduct of another consultant, Peter Hargitay.
- The money given to, or attempted to be given to, Oceania, Asia, Africa and good old Jack Warner’s Trinidad and Tobago in the name of ‘development’.
- Payment by Australia of a training camp for the U-20 team from Trinidad and Tobago.
- The relationship between the three consultants and other executive committee members, Sepp Blatter, Mohamed Bin Hammam and Warner.
One of Australia’s trio of bid consultants, Peter Hargitay, with Jack Warner (photo courtesy of Andrew Jennings).
In fact, of all the material of all the bidders outlined by Garcia, Australia’s is the closest to an actual illicit payment; a USD$500,000 payment that ended up in Warner’s personal pocket. Garcia makes the point that the Australian bid team was desperate to make this payment before the vote, and did so in September 2010.
I can point to public and private discussion of these issues by Bonita since 2010. She has, quite frankly, been relentless and professional in highlighting them – as well as remarkably consistent over almost seven years. Her story has not wavered. And because she has worked in senior-level strategic positions, she was also one of the first people who I’ve seen who worked in the system who put the bidding process into a broader framework of how business was done at FIFA and within the football world.
That Garcia pretends her evidence to him was not germane to his inquiries on the Australian bid, or his conclusions about it, simply beggars belief. There is no other way to put it.
Now let’s turn to Phaedra, who is not a Qatari national but an Arab-American woman. Her evidence is different in nature, in that she has spoken of one specific event.
She claimed that she was in the room, providing English-French-Arabic translations, when an arrangement was discussed between the Qatar bid team and three African executive committee voters for Qatar financial support for development in return for their vote.
To this day, Qatar denies the meeting took place. Garcia says that without photographic evidence, he takes the Qatar bid team’s view. But I ask you: who takes a photo of a private meeting, especially in January 2010 before the ‘selfie’ phenomenon exploded?
Phaedra’s situation became confusing when she retracted her claims about six months after making them. At the time, she said it was voluntary and without pressure. She has subsequently said – and told Garcia as well as David Conn in his recent book – that she was under pressure. She was visited by a Qatar bid staff member in the US, and under threat of triggering a confidentiality clause in her contract, she signed an affidavit retracting her earlier claim. Garcia says this didn’t happen.
He concludes by saying he relied on absolutely nothing she had to say, or any documents she had available.
But it gets worse. Garcia then writes about some highly personal issues for Phaedra which are not relevant to his inquiries and have no place in a report like this. No place – which is why I’m not repeating them.
The fact that he chose to damage the reputation of two women, the only people who were prepared to stand-up and say, in one instance, something is not right about this Qatar bid; and in the other, something is not right about this entire way of decision-making by FIFA and Australia is embroiled in it; is a reflection on Michael Garcia.
If the evidence truly showed in relation to the Qatar bid that the whistleblower’s claims could not be corroborated, then all he had to say was:
“I could not corroborate this claim.”
If he really didn’t rely on the evidence of the Australian whistleblower, all he had to say was:
“I did not rely on her evidence unless I could corroborate it.” – which, by the way, would be a pretty normal thing to do anyway. The fact is, she gave him all his lines of inquiry.
Because it’s FIFA, and knowing how big sporting organisations treat whistleblowers, I am prepared to assume that somewhere, deep down, Garcia is a decent person. I can only assume that part of Garcia’s riding instructions for his hefty Lexington Avenue $6 million fee was to discredit these two women and make them go away.
Bonita foreshadowed what would happen perfectly in December 2014 after the release of the Eckert Summary report (of Garcia’s report) that FIFA released in November 2014.
“…. what do you do? Passively accept what he wrote about us? Go away in a corner and curl up and die? Or do you put the alternative viewpoint and advocate for a cause about which I have felt passionately for a very long time – the reform of Fifa? For doing so, I expect to be further trashed when Fifa releases its “legally appropriate” version of the Garcia Report. That’s the price you pay. Its culture is one of silence. If you ask questions or if you speak out, you’re punished. You lose your job. You get vilified.”
If Garcia was working to FIFA instructions, it didn’t work.
Garcia hasn’t discredited them in my eyes. Nor in the eyes of anyone who has been following this story since the beginning.
As for going away? Knowing Bonita as I do in particular, that’s just not going to happen.
All power to both of them.