SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia’s soccer chief has denied any wrongdoing during the country’s failed campaign to host the 2022 World Cup, while an Australian politician has called FIFA’s investigation a “sick farce” and demanded its money back.
Federation Football Australia (FFA) chief Frank Lowy released a statement on Friday, rejecting a FIFA report that criticized Australia’s campaign tactics.
“I made it clear to all involved in our bid that we would run a clean campaign and I stressed this objective at every opportunity,” Lowy said.
The Australian government invested A$43 million ($37.43 million) on a bid that received just one solitary vote when FIFA stunned the sporting world by awarding its 2018 showpiece tournament to Russia and the 2022 event to Qatar.
Responding to cries of foul, FIFA launched an independent investigation into the bidding process, conducted by American prosecutor Michael Garcia.
A summary of his report was published on Thursday, apparently clearing Russia and Qatar of any misconduct but pointing the finger at other countries, including Australia and England, which had been among the most vocal critics of FIFA.
However, FIFA’s summary report was immediately undermined when Garcia said his findings had not been accurately presented. He called on FIFA to publish his entire report, something which FIFA had previously said it would not do.
Australian senator Nick Xenophon said on Friday that the investigation was a “whitewash” and a “sick farce”. He called on FIFA to refund the money Australia had spent on the bid, saying they had been “absolutely ripped off”.
Lowy, the billionaire owner of the shopping mall giant Westfield Group, addressed some of the allegations made against Australia, saying the FFA had worked closely with FIFA throughout the bidding process.
The report summary said Australia’s bid had funded soccer development projects around the world and “helped create the appearance that benefits were conferred in exchange for a vote.”
The FFA was also accused of making payments to CONCACAF, the regional body for soccer in north and central America, which “appear to have been commingled, at least in part, with personal funds” of then CONCACAF president Jack Warner.
The third main allegation was that the bid had tried “to direct funds the Australian government had set aside for existing development projects in Africa toward initiatives in countries with ties to FIFA Executive Committee members.”
Lowy said Australia had been encouraged by FIFA to “take every opportunity to demonstrate Australia’s commitment to football, especially in developing regions.”
“It’s clear that this led us to be misled in particular relating to a payment made to CONCACAF which was later revealed to have been misappropriated,” he added.
“In hindsight, there are many things we might have done differently and we remain disappointed by our experience of the World Cup bidding process.”
The FFA said they would await advice on the next steps in the process given “the apparent dispute between chairmen of the FIFA Ethics Committee’s Adjudicatory and Investigatory chambers” -- a reference to Garcia’s likely appeal against the findings of a report he helped compile.
Editing by John O'Brien