Russia and Qatar could be stripped of their rights to host the World Cup if evidence of bribery in the bidding process is found, said Domenico Scala, the independent chairman of FIFA’s audit and compliance committee, during an interview published on Sunday by Swiss newspaper Sonntagszeitung.
Both countries have denied any wrongdoing in their bidding processes and Scala admits that he has not seen evidence of corruption.
“Until today, the respective evidence has not been provided,” Scala said, adding that “should there be evidence that the awards to Qatar and Russia came only because of bought votes, then the awards could be cancelled.”
Two weeks ago the U.S. Justice Department unsealed a 47-count indictment which charges 14 world soccer figures — nine FIFA officials and five corporate executives — with racketeering, bribery, money laundering, and fraud.
In a related announcement, Swiss prosecutors announced that they had opened a probe into the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 tournaments to Russia and Qatar respectively.
Amid the probes and calls to step down, Joseph “Sepp” Blatter, FIFA President since 1998, who recently secured a fifth term as president, unexpectedly announced last week that he would resign.
ABC News reported shortly thereafter that Blatter is being investigated by the FBI and U.S. prosecutors as part of the probe that led to the indictments two weeks ago.
The FBI’s investigation includes scrutiny over how soccer’s governing body awarded World Cup hosting rights to Russia and Qatar.
U.S. lawyer Michael Garcia was previously hired by FIFA to investigate the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding processes.
In November 2014, findings from Garcia’s two-year inquiry were released by FIFA as a summary of his full 430-page report, but Garcia complained that their representation of his work contained “numerous materially incomplete and erroneous representations of the facts”.
The report cleared Russia and Qatar of wrongdoing, Garcia later quit weeks after over FIFA’s handling of his inquiry.
Garcia’s comments later reopened the debate over the validity of the bidding process.
Scala has since had Garcia’s report reviewed by legal experts, both inside the sport and outside of the sport, however neither side was able to find grounds to alter the award of either tournament at this point.
Qatar is spending around $200 billion on infrastructure for the 2022 event, which includes constructing at least 8 new stadiums and a $35 billion metro and rail system.
FIFA’s selection of Qatar to host the 2022 event has stirred up controversy due to the scorching temperatures during the June and July timeframe and also because of the country’s limited soccer tradition. FIFA later pushed back the dates to November-December, which will force major leagues in Europe to change up their schedules despite Europe’s protests. Qatar has also been under fire by rights groups over the working conditions for migrant workers who are building the new stadiums.
Last year, Credit Suisse warned that Qatar’s stock market could plunge by 20% if it was stripped of the 2022 tournament. Bank of America Merrill Lynch has estimated the potential losses could be around $16 billion.