More testimony alleging bribery over Qatar’s World Cup bid at New York trial

December 03, 2017
Hanging clouds. The federal courthouse in New York where suspects from Paraguay, Brazil and Peru are on trial in the FIFA corruption scandal. (AFP)

London- The former president of Colombia’s football fed­eration, Luis Bedoya, tes­tified in the trial of three senior South American football officials that he was ap­proached over potential bribes to back Qatar’s 2022 FIFA World Cup bid.

Bedoya, speaking under oath in US District Court in New York, said he had been told by Argentine Mar­iano Jinkis of the Full Play sporting company that up to $15 million in bribe money was on the table to be split among six South Ameri­can football officials. Full Play has been implicated as an alleged in­termediary to pay bribes to FIFA officials.

Bedoya testified that Jinkis had been accompanied by an “impor­tant person from Qatari television” but said he could not recall the fig­ure’s name.

Full Play is a sports marketing company that Qatari businessman Nasser al-Khelaifi, chairman of France’s Paris St-Germain football team and chief executive of beIN Media Group, had been in talks to buy.

Although none of the six South American football officials were on the FIFA selection committee, it is believed their support could have influenced South America’s three voters — Julio Grondona of Argen­tina, Nicolas Leoz of Paraguay and Ricardo Teixeira of Brazil.

Bedoya said the arrangement to receive the money was deemed too “complicated’ to be seriously considered. A previous witness at the trial, Argentine sports market­ing executive Alejandro Burzaco, alleged that Qatar paid millions of dollars in bribes via Full Play.

There have been increasing calls to move the 2022 World Cup from Qatar amid allegations of bribery and questions over workers’ con­ditions.

FIFA’s new Human Rights Advi­sory Board issued a report in early November calling on football’s world governing body to strength­en workers’ rights in Qatar.

“We highlight the long-term commitment requirement from FIFA to build systems at the op­erational level that can proactively identify and respond to the most severe human rights risks,” the re­port said.

However, international human rights groups said the report did not go far enough. Human Rights Watch (HRW) warned that migrant construction workers in Qatar, including those building stadi­ums for the 2022 World Cup, were working in life-threatening heat and humidity.

“Fans should not have to sit in stadiums that workers were en­slaved or even died to build. With the clock ticking, FIFA needs to move beyond reports and take con­crete steps to make things right,” said HRW Global Initiatives Direc­tor Minky Worden.

The criticism, along with the bribery trial, has had a negative ef­fect on World Cup sponsorship deals as international companies shy away from working with FIFA.

With less than eight months un­til the 2018 World Cup in Russia, FIFA is still looking for partners, a sign that corporate interest in work­ing with the global football body is lacking. FIFA declared its sponsor­ship programme sold out more than 18 months before the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

“It’s not surprising it’s been and still is a toxic brand,” Patrick Nally, a sports sponsorship executive who previously worked with FIFA, told the New York Times.

“The word FIFA globally has got just the worst image in the world. If anything, those four letters stand for absolute total corruption and it’s so unattractive,” he added.

The scandals intensified calls for FIFA to act to restore its reputation by removing Qatar as hosts.

“Sports is about human ethics and values, seeking rapprochement across the world, the coexistence of people from different backgrounds. The scandal and suspicion over the former FIFA management’s practic­es and the receipt of bribes — some of which are still under investiga­tion, have impacted how the whole tournament is being viewed,” said Saudi writer Mohammed al-Shaikh.

In a column in the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya news website, Shaikh explicitly called for the tournament to be moved from Qatar, which is the target of a Saudi-led boycott by four Gulf countries.

“Rational minds in Qatar should stop and think about what this cra­zy escapade is costing the country. Who is responsible for the conse­quences of this scandal?” he asked.