The Australian football federation (FFA) denied any impropriety in its failed bid for the 2022 World Cup on Tuesday, saying its support for soccer projects abroad was done in a transparent manner and under FIFA guidelines.
The denial comes on the back of fresh allegations surrounding Qatar's successful 2022 bid after the Sunday Times claimed it had evidence that around US$5 million (S$6.28 million) was paid to FIFA officials in return for votes.
With Qatar organisers "vehemently" denying any wrongdoing in its bid, calls for the tournament to be moved if corruption is proved have grown louder since the report was published.
The future of the tournament now appears to rest in the hands of former US prosecutor Michael Garcia, who is leading an internal investigation into corruption in world soccer, including the bidding process that awarded Russia and Qatar the next two World Cups.
In a statement released on Monday, Garcia set out a timetable that would see him file a report after the 2014 World Cup in Brazil ends in July.
Bonita Mersiades, who was the FFA head of corporate affairs during the 2022 bid process, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that Australia's grant to overseas football bodies also needed to be examined. "Some of the evidence published in relation to Qatar was that some of the money was given to development projects - we gave money for development projects, we gave $4 million to the Oceania Football Confederation for sports development," she said. "That was via the government, in and of itself there was nothing wrong with sports development projects, but the question for Michael Garcia was, was there a vote attached to it? If the answer to that is 'yes', then it's very hard to argue that that activity is very much different from what (Mohamed) bin Hammam is alleged to have been doing." Disgraced official Bin Hammam, who was AFC president when the World Cup was awarded to his native country in 2010, is at the centre of the latest allegations but has yet to comment publicly on the matter.
The FFA issued a statement on Tuesday, insisting its support for projects abroad were made under the FIFA guidelines which required World Cup bidders to demonstrate their commitment to "Football Development" and "Sustainable Social and Human Development". "It has been previously widely reported that during its bid campaign, Australia supported a number of football and humanitarian programs," the FFA said. "FFA has kept the Australian Government and football authorities, including Mr Garcia, informed of these activities at all relevant times." The FFA said its support for 'A CONCACAF Centre of Excellence' project in the Caribbean was a "matter of public record".
The FFA donated A$500,000 (S$582,400) in 2010 for a feasibility study for the centre and was told in 2013, after a CONCACAF probe, that the fund had been misappropriated by the former president of the continental governing body. "FFA liaised with both CONCACAF and FIFA following the CONCACAF inquiry finding and was informed that Mr Garcia's inquiry would now investigate the matter further. FFA provided information to Mr Garcia and co-operated fully with him. "FFA is awaiting the outcome of Mr Garcia's inquiry before taking further action," it added.
The bid expenditures were independently audited and the resulting unqualified report had been provided to both the Australian Government and Garcia, the FFA added. "Australia's activities throughout were transparent and proper. FFA sought to align its activities with the Australian Government's broader international aid objectives and in areas of focus for government aid programs, namely Oceania, Asia, Africa and the Caribbean," the FA said. "In each case, these activities were conducted with proper due diligence, including an assessment of the proposed project, recording and documentation," it added.