John Leicester: Clean it up - Fifa's corruption challenge

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Sepp Blatter, President of FIFA. Photo / AP
Sepp Blatter, President of FIFA. Photo / AP

Secret slush funds, junkets, gifts and payments to soccer officials - the latest allegations that a Qatari official greased palms to help buy the 2022 World Cup for his Gulf nation make depressing reading.

But the silver lining is this - better that this came to light than not at all. This stink bomb couldn't have been rolled into Fifa's house at a more opportune time. With global attention on soccer because of the World Cup tournament in Brazil, outside pressure on the governing body and Qatar for answers, for action and for heads to roll will be intense.

The spotlight now falls on two people, Fifa president Sepp Blatter and Fifa prosecutor Michael Garcia.

Blatter should - at least for now - resist calls for Qatar to be stripped of the 2022 World Cup or for a revote to be held.

Such a momentous decision, which would be a huge affront to the tiny but rich nation, cannot be made lightly.

It should not be made in the heat of the moment.

Politicians and others quick to suggest Qatar is no longer or perhaps never was a suitable and trustworthy World Cup host should pause and take breath. They should consider how public opinion in the Middle East might react if Qatar was shamed by being stripped of the tournament, especially if evidence to justify such a move is anything less than rock-solid.

They also should consider whether pressure on Fifa to ditch Qatar is based on an abundance of cold, hard facts and proof of Qatari wrongdoing. Or is Western snobbery, jealousy of Qatar's wealth and disdain for what is a new frontier in the global spread of football also playing a role?

Yes, the evidence of apparent sleaze, patronage and influence-buying leaked to the Sunday Times by what it called "a senior Fifa insider" does look compelling.

It alleged that Qatari official Mohamed bin Hammam, subsequently banned for life by Fifa in 2012, made dozens of payments totaling $5 million to generate a swell of support in the game for Qatar and its ambitious bid to play the World Cup in air-conditioned stadiums in a country with no soccer tradition.

The Sunday Times investigation was impressively detailed, with emails and spreadsheets showing apparent payments and favours for African football officials.

The easy argument to make now is that the buck should stop with Blatter and that he must resign or, at the very least, abandon his ambitions for another four-year term from 2015.

Although the newspaper didn't allege wrongdoing by the Fifa president, bribery, vote-buying and corruption scandals during his 16-year watch have shredded the governing body's reputation. There'd be cheers inside and outside soccer if he stepped aside.

But surely more pressing for soccer than the relatively narrow issue of whether Blatter should go (which he won't) is the broader issue of Fifa's future and credibility.

It must prove to a world that struggles to believe anything it does or says that it can now clean up its own mess. It must show that it has properly investigated Qatar's bid.

- AP

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