BBC: Fifa World Cup bribes programme in public interest - Press Gazette

BBC: Fifa World Cup bribes programme in public interest

The team behind England’s 2018 World Cup bid have again hit out at Panorama’s investigation into allegations that Fifa officials were paid bribes, saying the BBC should be embarrassed by the programme.

The timing of last night’s broadcast was criticised on different fronts with some arguing that the show should have been broadcast weeks ago so the matter could have been referred to Fifa’s ethics committee.

Despite the furore surrounding the programme – and earlier revelations in the Sunday Times – Uefa president Michel Platini said England’s 2018 World Cup bid would not be affected.

The BBC documentary accused three Fifa executive committee members of accepting “corrupt” payments and alleged that Fifa vice-president Jack Warner attempted to supply ticket touts.

It was transmitted three days ahead of the crucial vote to decide who hosts the 2018 competition.

Platini claimed this particular broadcast would not directly affect the bidding process but warned that British media media coverage of Fifa in general could: “I don’t think this (programme) will have an effect, no – but I think what may affect the decision is the atmosphere going back a long time and what people have been writing about Fifa in the British press for many years.”

The BBC has been heavily criticised over the timing of the Panorama screening and this latest controversy comes as Prince William, Prime Minister David Cameron and David Beckham travel to Fifa’s headquarters in Zurich today in an attempt to lobby support before Thursday’s deciding vote.

England faces competition from Russia, Spain/Portugal and Holland/Belgium and will need to gain the support of 12 members of Fifa’s 22-strong committee.

African confederation president Issa Hayatou, whose vote England 2018 had high hopes of capturing; Brazil’s Ricardo Terra Teixeira and Nicolas Leoz of Paraguay were all accused by Panorama of taking payments.

Warner is the subject of accusations that he “ordered (2010 World Cup) tickets costing $84,240 from the Fifa ticket office but the deal subsequently fell through”.

The four men are all part of the electorate who will vote on the 2018 and 2022 hosts. Warner’s importance to the England bid is such that Cameron has invited him to lunch before the vote on Thursday.

Critics of the BBC’s decision to screen the programme also drew on the fact that the allegations were not linked to World Cup votes and all relate to payments made between 21 and 11 years ago by the collapsed company ISL, which had been awarded the marketing rights to successive World Cups by Fifa.

An England 2018 statement said: “We stand by our previous position that the BBC’s Panorama did nothing more than rake over a series of historical allegations none of which are relevant to the current bidding process.

‘It should be seen as an embarrassment to the BBC.”

Panorama claims its investigation was in the public interest and defended the timing of the programme.

A spokesman said: “The programme is in the public interest and shows that some Fifa executives involved in making decisions about the 2018 bid have a history of taking bribes – and that Fifa has consistently failed to act.

“Delay until after the bid was not an option once it became clear that the winning nations might have been chosen by officials with a proven track record of corruption.”

The BBC said in a press release that Panorama had obtained a confidential document from inside ISL that listed 175 secret payments made between 1989 and 1999.

Panorama said one Liechtenstein company, Sanud, received 21 payments totalling $9.5m (£6.1m) and there was “compelling evidence” the money went to Mr Teixeira.

The name of Hayatou, from Cameroon, appears next to a cash payment of 100,000 French Francs (£10,000) in 1995, said the programme.

Leoz has already been named by a Swiss court in connection with two ISL payments totalling $130,000 (£83,000) and Panorama says the list shows he received three further payments of $200,000 (£128,000) each.

Australia, Japan, USA, South Korea and Qatar are bidding for the 2022 tournament.

Fifa are currently attempting to determine if the Oceania federation can replace their suspended president Reynald Temarii on the executive committee, which would make it 23 voting members.

Temarii, from Tahiti, and Nigeria’s Amos Adamu were both suspended following the Sunday Times investigation but both announced their intention to appeal.

Clive Edwards, the executive editor of BBC current affairs, defended the timing of the Panorama programme.

He said they had received the list showing the payment of the bribes last month and had spent the entire time since checking it out and putting the claims to the people involved.

He said they put the information to Fifa on November 10.

“Panorama’s job is to investigate corruption and wrongdoing in public life so we put the information out there as soon as we could,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

“Some people have said that it would have been better to do it after the vote but it is surely nonsense to suggest that you know a process could be flawed and you don’t say anything until after it has happened.

“I am not prepared to sit on information we have. I believe that it is in everyone’s interest that there should be a fair process and that corruption should be exposed.”

However, former sports minister Richard Caborn said Panorama should have broadcast the programme some weeks earlier and the matter could then have been referred to Fifa’s ethics committee.

“I don’t think that Panorama have actually done sport any favours and indeed themselves any favours because they could have got these people suspended,” he said.

“Panorama could have broadcast it some weeks before they did. They have actually missed a great opportunity.”