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Does the FFA deserve its $43m back from Fifa?
The FFA wants compensation from Fifa, but there are good reasons Australia's World Cup bid failed
Football Federation Australia (FFA) chairman Frank Lowy, who chaired Australia's failed 2022 World Cup bid, says Fifa should pay compensation to his federation and other losing candidates if the tournament in Qatar is switched to the northern hemisphere winter.
Fifa awarded the tournament to Qatar in December 2010, but the kingdom's victory has been tainted with controversy ever since the announcement, with questions raised about the nature of its victory and (despite offering air conditioned stadia for the tournament) its summer climate.
Australia came rock bottom of the five candidates for the 2022 finals, despite ploughing through $42.7m of public money about four times the amount second placed US spent, but perhaps just a quarter of Qatar's bid budget.
In bidding for the 2022 finals, the FFA achieved a rare triple whammy. It paid overseas consultants millions in taxpayers' money to come dead last in Fifa voting; drew the ire of the country's biggest football code; and was widely criticised in the media for the discrepancy between the cost of hosting the tournament and the apparent benefits to Australia.
If it couldn't manage to convincingly win over the AFL and the Australian media, why would Fifa choose it? It's remarkable how much it got so badly wrong.
Some of the Fifa executive committee's 27 members are not happy at the matter being raised, indeed it has shrugged off the idea that Australia will get any compensation.
Unlike in 2010, Australia now has its own Fifa Exco member, the Liverpool-supporting lawyer and former Matildas player Moya Dodd. At the weekend, Dodd's Exco colleague Sunil Gulati (who led the failed US bid) made public what many of his colleagues have been saying in private.
"I don't see at this stage, frankly, how I or any member of Fifa's executive committee could make a sensible decision [on whether to switch the 2022 World Cup to the northern hemisphere winter]," he told the New York Times. "We don't have enough information, and there are too many questions. I don't see how anybody in a position of responsibility can take a position without some answers."
So much analysis in this strange world of football politics is essentially reading the runes. One theory is that in moving Qatar to winter at this stage, Fifa takes the sting out of the decision to host the 2022 World Cup in the fierce heat of a Qatari summer, something many have questioned over the past 33 months.
Whether Fifa can do this, a move the FFA indicated this week it would object to without compensation, is still unclear. In a strange interview with the industry website InsideWorldFootball.com last week, Blatter started quoting clauses in the bid registration documents that suggested Fifa had the right to hold the tournament when it saw fit. No one has seen these documents except Fifa and senior figures on the bids, but it seems strange that Blatter should quote them if they do not exist.
If the clauses that would allow Fifa to switch the World Cup dates are fiction, it would open the door to a litany of legal challenges, not just from disgruntled losers such as the FFA, but, more importantly, Fifa's broadcast partners, who have signed contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars. It also seems unlikely that federations much bigger and more powerful than Australia's would let their leagues be disrupted.
In short, it's a complete mess. But it is not really Australia's mess or its place to claim it lost because of a "flawed process". The defeat is not a reflection of the country, but the way the FFA handled the bid: Tim Cahill, arguably the country's greatest ever footballer, was sidelined for Elle Macpherson at the final presentation; Bonita Mersiades, a popular administrator (and occasional Guardian Australia contributor), left the bid after falling foul of one of the consultants; and some of Australia's opponents for the 2022 bid described them as aloof.
If questions are to be raised, it should be from the Australian taxpayer about why, for example, the FFA was allowed to use their money with no accountability to court nefarious characters such as the former Concacaf president Jack Warner. In one memorable example, Australia's bid team spent $2,000 on a necklace for Warner's wife after he complained that other Fifa members' partners had received similar "goodwill gestures".
Questions could also be raised about the FFA's relationship with Nurdin Halid, who led the Indonesian federation from a prison cell after being convicted of taking food aid for tsunami victims, and was photographed with Lowy, who described their relationship as "strong".
And taxpayers may want to know why $10.3m of their money was spent on a Philip Noyce-directed final bid presentation that was so lamentable it elicited howls of laughter from journalists when it was shown in Zurich.
Even three years on, there are so many unresolved questions about why Australia lost so badly, that Lowy's calls for a "transparent and orderly approach" seem strange. Indeed, the country with the greatest sense of grievance has also been the most dignified loser. The United States would have been the most worthy winner on many levels. Perhaps it is still playing a waiting game.
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