Used appropriately, parliamentary privilege is a beautiful concept. The idea that a legislator can stand up in his or her parliament and speak without fear of legal recourse (i.e. defamation) has allowed for many previously unknowns to become, well, known.
When one such legislator happens to be a British lord who was also a key figure in England’s failed bid for the 2018 FIFA World Cup some people were obviously not going to be happy with what he said. Others? Well, they couldn’t wait to hear what he may reveal.
That’s exactly what happened on May 10, 2011, when the Football Association’s former chairman, Lord Treisman, sat before a parliamentary enquiry and spoke about his experience during England’s failed 2018 bid campaign. Treisman delivered a very hot potato in claiming FIFA Executive Committee members Jack Warner, Ricardo Teixeira, Nicolas Leoz, and Worawi Makudi had solicited bribes to back England for 2018.
According to Treisman, Worawi, the head of the Thai Football Association, specifically requested he personally receive the TV rights to a friendly match proposed between England and Thailand. All four Executive Committee members denied Treisman’s allegations – as they would – but the perception of how the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids were managed became so tainted that the only people who appeared genuinely surprised by Treisman’s claims were the accused themselves.
The rest of us? Well, meh.
Worawi sued Treisman for libel and slander (perhaps not being told anything by his lawyers about parliamentary privilege), a charge a British High Court judge threw out in February this year.
(We’re following Bangkok Post house-style here in using the first name as a descriptor – we’re not actually on European-style first-name terms with Worawi).
In a clear case of meet-the-new-guy, same-as-the-old-guy, Worawi is now running to replace Mohammed Bin Hammam as President of the Asian Football Confederation when the 46-member confederation votes for its new President on May 2 – an election necessary after Bin Hammam was banned for life from football.
Treisman’s allegations are not in isolation. Worawi accompanied Bin Hammam on his ill-fated 2011 trip to a meeting of the Caribbean Football Union in Trinidad where the Qatari gifted $40,000 to several delegates in a possible attempt to gain votes in his campaign to unseat FIFA President Sepp Blatter. Obviously “associates”, Worawi claims he knew nothing of Bin Hamman’s plans for that particular trip.
But the rap sheet continues – last September Worawi denied fraud allegations by a South Korean company in connection with the cancellation of a multi-million-dollar TV rights deal (Worawi, it seems, knows a thing about the value of football TV rights).
Also in 2011, apparently a busy year for the 61-year-old, Worawi was cleared of accusations that funds meant for the Thai Football Association were instead spent on building football facilities on land he owned in Bangkok.
The ASEAN Football Federation – which includes Australia – has given Worawi’s bid for the AFC top job its unanimous support. This action should provoke a huge sigh across the region. If the Asian Football Confederation, the ASEAN nations, and especially Australia, want to distance themselves from Bin Hammam and a very murky way of doing business then in pushing Worawi Makudi they have clearly – quite clearly – gone for the wrong man.
For those of us outside the inner-sanctums of football’s governing elite meaningful reform, it seems, will remain something of a privilege.