World football might just be at the dawn of a new era.
Sepp Blatter’s resignation should open the door to major reform. I say should because FIFA’s problems are deep-rooted and tangled in a culture that has developed over decades. It will take a united, concerted effort by its football associations to fix the mess.
Australia has tried its best to work within football forums to promote reform. In 2013 we began work on ideas which would allow FIFA to operate with greater transparency and accountability. Many others in world football have been working on similar projects.
Now, at last, it appears there might be new leadership at FIFA willing to listen to these ideas.
I feel that the past week has been a watershed. The series of events leading up to last week’s dramatic developments and the overall scandal surrounding FIFA left Australia with no option but to vote for change.
On a personal level, since 2 December 2010 when Australia received just one vote in its World Cup bid, I have nursed a bitter grievance.
We ran a clean bid. I know that others did not, and I have shared what I know with the authorities, including Michael Garcia who undertook a 2-year investigation into the 2022 World Cup bid.
But did we make mistakes? Yes. Were we naïve? In some cases, yes. Would we do things differently in future? Absolutely.
The FIFA bid guidelines required us to demonstrate a commitment to international football, particularly through projects in developing countries.
We were playing ‘catch up’ in world football terms. Australia had only begun its reform of football in 2003. We entered the Asian Confederation in 2006. When we launched our bid for 2022 we were not familiar with the powerbrokers in world football.
This led us to recruit, on the advice of FIFA’s leadership, consultants who ultimately proved less than effective to say the least.
It led us to work hard to meet the commitment to development projects.
We gave funds, often in conjunction with Ausaid and the Australian Government, to many countries and football associations.
Sometimes these were football related. We paid for under-17 teams from Laos and Malaysia to travel to Australia for tournaments. We worked with Government to fund the “Just Play” program under the Pacific Sports Partnership. We gave to countries that didn’t have a vote in the World Cup bid, such as Vietnam, the Philippines and East Timor.
Others were humanitarian, such as a donation to help repair damaged football infrastructure after the 2009 earthquakes in Chengdu, China and a hospital in South Africa and desks for African school children.
This was effectively the same approach used to win the bid for the 2000 Olympics, and by government to win a seat on the UN Security Council, and was consistent with what every other bidding nation was doing.
The donation which has received most attention was to CONCACAF – the north and central American football association.
This was to fund a feasibility study to develop its Centre of Excellence in Trinidad & Tobago. The man behind the centre was the President of CONCACAF, Jack Warner, whose reputation as a “colourful character” was well known.
He had been on the FIFA Executive Committee since 1983 and was seen as hugely influential to the World Cup vote.
The centre asked Australia to donate $4 million to the project. We compromised and offered $500,000 to fund a preliminary feasibility study.
We sent a team to examine the site. We engaged an external sports facilities consultant to visit the site and prepare a report. We met with CONCACAF officials to agree the terms.
The Chief Executive of the Centre, not Warner, gave us the bank account details for CONCACAF. We paid the money into that account and received confirmation it was received by the bank. It was paid into a CONCACAF account, not Jack Warner’s personal account.
When CONCACAF contacted us to say they were conducting an inquiry into its accounts, we provided information about our donation.
That inquiry – conducted by 2 former judges and a senior accountant - found that Jack Warner had committed fraud and misappropriated the funds – in other words he had stolen the money from CONCACAF. It also found other instances of wrongdoing by Warner over many years.
That initial inquiry by CONCACAF was taken over by FIFA and Michael Garcia, and again Australia provided information to Garcia. We also became aware that law enforcement authorities in the US were looking into the matter.
We asked CONCACAF to give our money back because it wasn’t used for the purpose we intended, and were advised by FIFA to wait until the inquiries were complete. Those inquiries are still ongoing.
We ran a clean bid and we are proud of that but it wasn’t a level playing field and therefore we didn’t win it. I will always be bitterly disappointed about the outcome.
But since 2 December 2010 Australia has been working behind the scenes to bring about change, and we will continue to do that as FIFA embarks on this new era.
**NOTE - FFA Chairman Frank Lowy AC and FFA CEO David Gallop are both travelling and unavailable for further comment at this time.