Spies, Lies, and Double Agents: The World Cup Bids Get Crazier

If the story surrounding the bids for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups weren’t strange enough already, it has suddenly become the stuff of a spy movie. Spies, lies, and double agents now star in the latest revelations shaken from FIFA’s creaking tree.

Among a few other individuals and organizations, British newspaper The Sunday Times has sunk its teeth into the bids for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. The Sunday Times team has doggedly got hold of a FIFA leg and refuses to let go. The paper has resources to do so and you wonder what reporters might have uncovered had they the same budget as FIFA allowed for its own so-called ‘investigation’ into the controversial bids.

The latest revelation about the bids for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups include spies

The latest revelation about the bids for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups include not just bribes but spies. Bring your own gold.

In the United Kingdom, the House of Commons ‘Culture Media and Sport Select Committee’, a government body, has now published previously unseen material for all to see from a recent submission by reporters from The Sunday Times. It includes bombshells and intrigue. The main claims are from sources involved with, and close to, the England bid team and include the charge that that bidding countries used intelligence gathering organizations and British embassies against rivals.

The Sunday Times doesn’t name its sources but describes them as a government insider who was closely involved in overseeing England’s bid to host the 2018 World Cup; a former MI6 officer who was involved in gathering intelligence on the rivals of the England 2018 bid; a senior official in the Football Association; senior executives of the England 2018 bid with close knowledge of its intelligence-gathering operation; and a director and a high-ranking employee of the bid who were aware of the intelligence gathering operation run by England’s bid.

A FIFA Executive Committee member hard at world. Probably.

A FIFA Executive Committee member hard at work. Probably.

One of the more fascinating revelations is: “The England bid sources revealed that their own spying campaign against their rivals was matched by similar tactics by the Russia 2018 bid. The sources said they had received assistance from Britain’s official security services to set up surveillance countermeasures because they feared Russia was spying on them when they met with voters to ask them to back the England 2018 bid. The security officials had advised them to lock their phones in lead boxesduring such meetings and swept the rooms to make sure they had not been bugged. England 2018 also paid private security companies to sweep its own offices regularly for bugs after being informed that Russia had installed a permanent surveillance unit in London to spy on its activities, the sources said.

This quote corroborates similar stories told to me earlier this year by officials working for a bid.

The submission from The Sunday Times also focuses on Russia and the roles of Vladimir Putin and oligarchs such as Roman Abramovich (this focus is expected considering it was Russia that beat England in the vote for 2018) and suggests Putin was disinterested in the bid until it became apparent his legacy may be tarnished if Russia lost to England.

But the devil is in the detail and there is some intriguing detail. Several names make repeat appearances. Former Asian Football Confederation President Mohamed Bin Hammam gets a mention, of course. But so, too, do shadowy Germans Andreas Abold and Fedor Radmann, close associates of Franz Beckenbauer, the former legendary player and Executive Committee member.

Franz Beckenbauer and 'associate' Fedor Radmann.

Franz Beckenbauer and ‘associate’ Fedor Radmann. Was Radmann a double agent? Who was he working for?

Abold and Radmann were contracted as ‘consultants’ to Australia’s bid for 2018 and 2022 (Australia embarrassingly dropped out of 2018 during the World Cup in South Africa when Bin Hammam threw AFC support behind a European host). But The Sunday Times claims that not only were Abold and Radmann soliciting bribes for Beckenbauer’s vote but they were also working for Russia.

Australia received just one vote in the run-off for 2022 – widely agreed to be from Beckenbauer although the dealmaker for that was understood to Australia not bidding for the 2011 Women’s World Cup, eventually hosted by Germany.

The Sunday Times submits that: “two consultants Andreas Abold and Fedor Radmann, were soliciting payments in connection with the vote of Franz Beckenbauer, the then German executive committee member. Abold and Radmann are known associates of Beckenbauer. They were understood to have communicated to a number of bids that Beckenbauer’s vote would be guaranteed if they were hired as consultants for a fee of millions of pounds.

The two consultants worked for the Australia 2022 bid, and intelligence received by England 2018 suggested they were also working for Russia. The first England 2018 source said the intelligence suggested Beckenbauer was: “The most corrupt of the lot” and was “completely in on the Russian bid”. He said Radmann and Abold had been touting themselves as consultants who would write the official bid books for various countries, and promising that they would deliver Beckenbauer’s vote in return for the engagement fee“.

Which, of course, leaves us with more questions than answers.

You can read the full Sunday Times submission to the The House of Commons Culture Media and Sport select committee here.

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