Fifa criticised for secrecy in ethics probe

Michael Garcia submitted his long-awaited report to German judge Hans-Joachim Eckert last month.

Fifa's Michael Garcia. Picture: EPA.

LONDON - Michael Garcia, the lead investigator into alleged corruption surrounding the 2018 and 2022 World Cups bidding process, has criticised football's global governing body Fifa for not conducting its ethics investigations in an open manner.

Garcia submitted his long-awaited report to German judge Hans-Joachim Eckert last month and called for it to be made public in line with "the goals of the reform process."

A number of Fifa executive committee members have backed its publication, but President Sepp Blatter has sidestepped the issue and the governing body's legal director linked the report's confidentiality with the protection of witnesses.

"The investigation and adjudication process operates in most parts unseen and unheard," the BBC quoted Garcia as saying in a keynote speech at an event organised by the American Bar Association in London.

"That's a kind of system which might be appropriate for an intelligence agency but not for an ethics compliance process in an international sports institution that serves the public and is the subject of intense public scrutiny."

Garcia, a former United States attorney, is investigating whether there was any corruption in the turbulent bidding process four years ago which ended in the 2018 World Cup being awarded to Russia and the 2022 tournament to Qatar.

Fifa and Qatar World Cup organisers have fended off corruption allegations ever since the Gulf state was awarded the tournament. Qatar has denied the allegations.

Last month, long-serving president Blatter restated his intention to run for a fifth term in next May's election and will vie with French candidate Jerome Champagne, who has called for Garcia's report to be made public.

"The natural next step of the development of an effective ethics process at Fifa is greater transparency," Garcia said.

"The second element that is vital to fulfilling the promise of this reform process is tone at the top.

"More simply put ... (what) Fifa needs in order to meet the challenge of ethics enforcement is leadership. An ethics committee, even a serious, independent ethics committee backed by a strong code of ethics, is not a silver bullet.

"What is required is leadership that sends a message that the rules apply to everyone; leadership that wants to understand and learn from any mistakes or missteps the ethics committee may have identified; leadership that makes it clear to everyone, this is what we've set up the ethics committee to do, this is why they do it, and this is what they've done.

"It's that kind of leadership that breathes the life into a code of ethics. Because true reform doesn't come from rules or creating new committee structures. It comes from changing the culture of the organisation."

Garcia warned that keeping ethical probes and their process under wraps was fraught with danger, and cited criticism of the NFL's handling of the Ray Rice domestic abuse scandal as stemming from a lack of transparency.

"Now the NFL has had to bring in outside counsel to investigate the investigation.

"Notably, the NFL has made clear the results of the new investigation will indeed be made public."