The Qatari construction magnate Mohammed bin Hammam was in 2011 cast out from his gilded position at the commanding heights of world football’s governing body. His fall closely traces the arc of FIFA’s shattered reputation, and the melting credibility of his country’s 2022 World Cup project.
Now the subject of the Sunday Times’s remarkably detailed allegations that he paid lavish bungs to FIFA officials while lobbying them to favour Qatar, Bin Hammam was barely known outside FIFA before the vote in Zurich that secured Qatar the World Cup.
He had from 1996 been one of the 24 suited men in the executive committee - the Exco - which runs the multibillion-pound international game from FIFA’s Zurich headquarters. Like several others around that top table and the president himself, Sepp Blatter, Bin Hammam had been the focus of corruption allegations; he was accused of paying cash to African delegates while supporting Blatter’s presidential candidacy in 1998, and “acting like the head of a crime organisation” during his campaign in 2009 to retain his Exco seat.
Yet much of that, well-documented though it was by the veteran FIFA investigative journalist Andrew Jennings and others, seemed obscure to the football public, and Bin Hammam actually presented himself as a clean-up candidate when he began his charm offensive in preparation to stand against Blatter.
True to FIFA high-rollers’ existence, he hosted the English media at Claridge’s in 2008, where he appealed to the aspiration that football can help bring a divided world together.
He presented himself as a new broom from the coming Asian region, who might supplant the stench of graft which trails the Blatter tenure.Walls of credibility tumble
Then the walls of credibility - FIFA’s, Bin Hammam’s, several other Exco members’ and therefore their World Cup votes - came tumbling down uncannily close to the presidential vote. It was Sunday 29 May 2011; with delegates from FIFA’s 203 football-playing nations gathered in Zurich, that Bin Hammam suddenly announced his withdrawal. FIFA followed that by announcing he had been suspended, due to paying $1m to 25 delegates of the Carribean Football Union, in now infamous $40,000 wads, dished out in unmarked envelopes by his then close associate and fellow Exco time-server, Trinidad’s Jack Warner.
It always seemed suspect that Bin Hammam had been exposed - by Chuck Blazer, Warner’s general-secretary at the north, central American and Caribbean football confederation, CONCACAF - just as he was about to stand against Blatter. That left Blatter, career master of FIFA intrigue, to coast into the presidential election three days later as the only name on the ballot paper, for whom 186 of the 203 delegates dutifully queued up to vote. Despite Bin Hammam protesting his innocence, the allegations stood. On appeal, the court of arbitration for sport did find in July 2012 that they did not quite have indisputable evidence that Bin Hammam provided the $1m cash, but: “It is more likely than not that Mr. Bin Hammam was the source of the monies.”
Blatter was triumphant, but the public outing of Bin Hammam and Warner seemed to irreparably breach the dam of insistent FIFA denial that it was beset with any corruption.
Warner, seething, threatened a “tsunami” of revelations about what really went on during his years on the Exco, thunderously leaking an email in which the FIFA general-secretary, Jerome Valcke, wrote that Qatar had “bought the World Cup”.
Valcke hastily clarified that he meant it figuratively, that Qatar’s bid team had spent hugely on legitimate marketing, not that he was alleging bribes. Warner’s “tsunami” never arrived, a reticence the Sunday Times has linked to $1.2m it claims its cache of internal emails show Bin Hammam wired to him in July 2011.
Warner resigned from football, before, in April 2013, both he and Blatter were found by a CONCACAF investigation to have committed fraud and misappropriated money, allegations they deny. The same month, court documents in Zug, Switzerland, were finally disclosed to confirm the story Jennings had long alleged that the former FIFA president Joao Havelange and long-serving Exco members Ricardo Texeira of Brazil and Ncolas Leoz of Paraguay had pocketed millions in bribes from the marketing company ISL - with Blatter’s knowledge.
Now the Sunday Times, based on a massive leak from unnamed sources in FIFA, has assembled a picture of Bin Hammam flying around the world lobbying for the Qatar 2022 bid, dishing out cash gifts and lavish hospitality, to Warner, Temarii and African football delegates who appeared depressingly keen to take it.
Of the 24 FIFA Exco members in December 2010, Temariia and Adamu were suspended; Warner, Bin Hammam, Blazer, Leoz and Texeira are all now tainted by corruption allegations, Issa Hayatou of Cameroon and the delegates behind other African Exco members are implicated by the Sunday Times.
Blatter himself was exonerated by FIFA because the receipt of commercial bribes was not a crime in Switzerland at the time he knew the money was paid to Havelange.
Bin Hammam has not responded to the latest revelations. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2014