NZ in Cup vote scandal

By agencies, Isaac Davison

A secret recording of an Auckland meeting is at the centre of a soccer scandal in which senior officials are accused of selling their votes for the rights to host the World Cup in 2018.

The bidding process for the biggest sporting competition in the world has been thrown into turmoil by a British newspaper sting in which two officials from Fifa - the sport's governing body - are shown on film asking for money to fund projects.

One of the men at the centre of the allegations is the most powerful soccer official in New Zealand's region, Oceania Football Confederation president Reynald Temarii.

The Sunday Times reported that in a meeting with an undercover reporter in Auckland, Mr Temarii, 43, asked for $3 million to pay for a football academy in the city.

Mr Temarii, who is from Tahiti, is on the 24-member committee which will vote on the venues for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups in a secret ballot in December.

The videotape showed Mr Temarii telling the reporter, "When people come to see me I usually say, 'What will be the impact of your bid in my region? If there is something concrete on the table, then it's interesting to discuss. If not, forget it ...'."

He goes on to say that an academy would cost $3 million, which would pay for facilities in Auckland, including an artificial pitch.

Temarii has acknowledged he made a mistake but has defended his own integrity. Temarii said he met FIFA president Sepp Blatter today to ask him to launch an ethics investigation, with a panel scheduled to discuss his case on Wednesday.

"I'm confident about my integrity but I made a mistake by talking in that way," Temarii said in an interview with AP at a Zurich hotel.

"I asked the FIFA president to investigate. I gave him a letter. It's important for me that the ethics committee investigates how I manage my relations with bidders."

In an open latter to his colleagues on FIFA's 24-man executive panel which will choose the hosts, Blatter said the Sunday Times' allegation is a "very unpleasant situation" for football's governing body.

"The information in the article has created a very negative impact on FIFA and on the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups," Blatter said.

The Oceania confederation's New Zealand representative, Fred de Jong, a close colleague of Mr Temarii, said last night he was "very surprised" by the allegations.

"I don't know the whole context so it's difficult to pass judgment. But I know Mr Temarii, and he's a great guy."

Former All White de Jong added that the accusations were a "bad look" for global football and threatened to "bring the game down".

Mr Temarii has been head of the OFC since 2004. He is also vice-president of the Fifa executive committee, and was credited with the revival of soccer in the Pacific.

Before being elected to his OFC post in 2004, he played football professionally in France for 11 years and represented Tahiti.

New Zealand Football chairman Frank van Hattum said he understood there had been "some attempt to stitch up a deal".

"We are not involved at all," said van Hattum. "It is an Oceania Football Confederation matter. Obviously OFC is aware of this and I have spoken to Fred [de Jong] about it but any statement will come from the OFC president Reynald Temarii who is in Zurich.

"As far as World Cup 2022 is concerned, New Zealand have already committed their vote to Australia.

"There have been all sorts of rumours but we, and the OFC executive, have already decided to vote for Australia."

"We have yet to make any decision on who we will support in 2018."

Four bids have been made for the 2018 tournament, from England, Russia, Spain/Portugal and Holland/Belgium. Australia and the USA have pulled out and are focusing on making bids for 2022.

The Fifa vote on the bids will be in Zurich on December 2.

The cash-for-votes claims are certain to provoke dismay among the hierarchy at Fifa - a body which has been dogged by allegations of corruption.

Another official, Amos Adamu from Nigeria, was also videotaped by a reporter asking for $1 million, half of which was to be paid upfront, for a "personal project".

The undercover reporters were posing as working for an American company, soliciting votes for the USA's 2018 bid before the Americans pulled out of the bid.

A Fifa statement said: "Fifa has already requested to receive all of the information and documents related to this matter ...

"Fifa will immediately analyse the material available and only once this analysis has concluded will Fifa be able to decide on any potential next steps."

OFC said last night it was aware of the report, and was "looking into the matter".

It is not the first time New Zealand has been caught up in controversy over bids for the World Cup.

New Zealander Charlie Dempsey created an international row when he was head of the Oceania Confederation by backing out of his vote for South Africa to have the Cup in 2006.

He was criticised at home and abroad for his non-vote, and was accused of giving the tournament to Germany.

- NZ Herald

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