MARRAKECH, Dec 17 (Reuters) - FIFA’s credibility took another blow on Wednesday when its ethics investigator Michael Garcia resigned complaining of a lack of leadership in world soccer’s governing body.
Garcia had spent 18 months probing the turbulent bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, awarded to Qatar and Russia respectively in December 2010, and was angry at the way his 430-page report was handled.
Garcia had expected his report to be published in full and began to lose patience when, after handing it to FIFA’s ethics judge Hans-Joachim Eckert, only a 42-page statement was issued which said there was no reason to re-open the bidding process.
Widely seen as the man most likely to uncover wrongdoing, the former U.S. prosecutor’s departure threatens to take FIFA’s reform process back to square one.
“Michael Garcia’s resignation is a step backwards,” said Jerome Champagne, who will challenge Sepp Blatter for the FIFA presidency in May.
The Swiss, who will be 79 by then, is standing for a fifth mandate, having backtracked on a promise to stand down.
”We needed to know what happened before and after the Dec. 2, 2010 vote,“ added Champagne. ”Today more than ever we need to know.
“When will the facts be known fully, transparently and above all without suspicion? When will we be able to start rebuilding FIFA’s image? And we need to protect the World Cup.”
UEFA president Michel Platini, a member of FIFA’s executive committee which starts a two-day meeting in Marrakech on Thursday, described Garcia’s resignation as “a new failure for FIFA.”
“FIFA’s ethics committee was created to increase transparency at the organisation, that’s what we wanted, but in the end it has just caused more confusion,” added the Frenchman, who has distanced himself from Blatter in the last year and will not support him in May.
The reform of FIFA’s ethics committee, by splitting it into investigatory and adjudicatory chambers each with independent chairmen, was the centrepiece of Blatter’s reform programme following a wave of scandals.
These ranged from allegations of corruption in the 2018/2022 bidding process to a row over $25,000 watches given as gifts to executive committee members at this year’s World Cup in Brazil.
Since 2010, eight members of FIFA’s decision-making Executive Committee have been banned for various lengths of time by FIFA’s ethics committee for corruption, or have resigned while under investigation.
Even the government of Switzerland, where FIFA is based, has become concerned and last week responded by approving a set of laws that have become known as “Lex FIFA”, which aim to tighten control over the approximately 60 sporting bodies based in the Alpine nation.
The bill includes wording saying Blatter and other sports executives, such as International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, should be treated as “politically exposed persons” -- a term justice officials use to define those in positions that could be abused to launder money.
Garcia, appointed in July 2012, said in his resignation statement that for the first two years his investigation had gone well.
“I felt that the ethics committee was making real progress in advancing ethics enforcement at FIFA,” he said. “In recent months, that changed.”
Since the World Cup, many feel the process has become bogged down in an increasingly complex legal quagmire, with a baffling array of committees, task forces, reports and appeals all combining to give the impression that the rules have been made up as they go along.
UEFA secretary general Gianni Infantino summed up the general sentiment two weeks ago.
“There is a feeling of everyone of being.. really up to here with all these stories,” he said.
“Every day there is something new coming out, it would certainly be helpful to have once and for all some clarity, as the UEFA president (Platini) has said already.”
“It would be helpful as much as possible to publish this report because as long as a only a few people know what is there and some things are leaked here and there......everyone says a little bit what he wants but without any shred of any evidence of anything...nobody really knows.”
Editing by Ed Osmond