MARRAKECH, Morocco (Reuters) - FIFA’s executive committee began a two-day meeting amid tight security on Thursday with members expected to vote on whether to release ethics investigator Michael Garcia’s report into the turbulent bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
The meeting, at a luxury Marrakech hotel where even the grounds were off limits to the public, began the day after Garcia quit in protest at the handling of his investigation into the process which led to the 2018 World Cup being awarded to Russia and the 2022 tournament to Qatar in December 2010.
Sources close to the FIFA leadership suggested the vote could be closer than expected and that more committee members might be moved to vote in favor of the release of a redacted version of Garcia’s report as public pressure on them grows.
The meeting will be addressed by Domenico Scala, head of FIFA’s audit and compliance committee and one of six people to have seen Garcia’s report.
FIFA Exco members who have publicly called for the report to be published in full include Jim Boyce, Jeffrey Webb, Moya Doidd, Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein of Jordan and UEFA president Michel Platini.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter could play a crucial role in swaying some of the undecided members on the 27-man committee to vote one way or another, sources at world soccer’s governing body said.
FIFA’s ability to police itself, after a wave of corruption scandals, has been repeatedly questioned and Garcia, a former U.S. prosecutor, had been seen as one of the people most capable of exposing any wrongdoing.
Germany’s executive committee member Theo Zwanziger has made the proposal for the report to be released in full, although to do so FIFA would first have to alter its code of ethics, where article 36 currently limits what can be published.
The article states that “only the final decisions already notified to the addressees may be made public.”
It adds that “in the event of a breach of this article by a member of the ethics committee, the relevant member shall be suspended by the FIFA disciplinary committee until the next FIFA Congress.”
It also states that “the members of the ethics committee and the members of the secretariats shall ensure that everything disclosed to them during the course of their duty remains confidential, in particular, facts of the case, contents of the investigations and deliberations and decisions taken as well as private personal data.”
Another major issue is the protection of the identity of the 75 witnesses who gave evidence to Garcia, although FIFA critics say this can easily be done by carefully redacting the report.
So far, only a 42-page statement from ethics judge Hans-Joachim Eckert has been made public and, although this identified problematic and inappropriate conduct by a number of candidates, it stopped short of calling for the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments to be reopened.
Garcia said Eckert’s statement contained misrepresentations and lodged a complaint with FIFA’s appeals committee. This was rejected on Tuesday and Garcia quit 24 hours later.
His resignation was a blow for Blatter who has touted the new-look ethics committee as the pillar of his reform process to make FIFA more transparent and less susceptible to corruption.
Reporting by Brian Homewood; Editing by Ken Ferris