The Story Of Australia’s Failed World Cup Bid. Part 2.

It’s the 16th of November 2005, the Australian football side (I refuse to call them the Socceroos- apart from just then obviously) are engaged in battle with Uruguay for a place in the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany. The first leg of the match in Montevideo ended 1-0 to Uruguay, the return match in Sydney has also ended 1-0 but this time to Australia. Extra-time has come and gone and a winner has not be found, the dreaded penalty shoot out is now needed to decide the winner. Each side has now each taken four penalties with Australia missing one and Uruguay missing two (after two fantastic saves from Mark Schwarzer). The hopes of an entire nation are now resting on the shoulders of John Aloisi. The ball is placed on the penalty spot, Uruguay’s keeper Fabian Carini tries to stare Aloisi down, guessing which way he will go. So far every successful penalty has gone to his left. A nervous Craig Foster is in the commentary box overwhelmed with excitement he is not sure if Australia will go through if the penalty goes in. His feelings are mirrored by an entire nation. Aloisi starts his run up from the edge of the penalty box, over 80 000 people in the stadium hold their breaths. The ball hits the top right hand corner of the net and a stadium erupts. Screams of joy, disbelief and elation echo around the Telstra Australia as now Australia will be going to the World Cup for the first time since 1974.

What unfolds in 2006 is an event that will unite Australian football fans in a way that seems unprecedented to an entire football loving generation. People will be awake in the early hours of the morning to see Australia win against Japan, battle valiantly against Brazil and secure their place in the second round after a dramatic 2-2 draw with Croatia. A loss in the next round to eventual winners Italy will spoil the party but not before the head of the FFA, Frank Lowy, has seen what a World Cup can do for a host nation and the feel good factor that it can bring. Frank has already transformed so much in a short space of time for Australian football, with the creation of the A-League and hiring of super coach Gus Hiddink, now he feels the next step is to bring the party to Australia. In October 2007 Mr Lowy announces that the FFA will lodge bids to host either the 2018 or 2022 FIFA World Cups.

What follows is the assembling of a team that is tasked with bringing the World Cup to Australia. What can not be foreseen is the apparent lack of value for money that these so-called ‘experts’ bring to the table and the removal of the one person who would appear to have the best interest of a nation at heart. The first thing we have to do is meet the players in this sorry tale:

  • Frank Lowy– One of the richest men in Australia and co-founder of the Westfield group. Took over the running of football in Australia in 2003 after the Crawford Report recommended the disbandment of the old Soccer Australia association for a new body to be headed by Lowy in an interim capacity. He would later form the FFA and go about transforming the game in Australia by removing the old National Soccer League and replacing it with the A-League.
  • Ben Buckley– At the time the Chief Executive Officer of the FFA and was responsible for the recruitment of the European consultants that he felt were needed to boost Australia’s chances of winning the bid.
  • Bonita Mersiades– Former Head of Corporate and Public Affairs at the FFA. Was responsible for the well received promotional video featuring Nicole Kidman. Part of the bid team before being removed from the FFA entirely in January 2010, 11 months before FIFA are due to make their decision. It is claimed Peter Hargitay insisted on her removal as she was too ‘honest’. She has gone on to write about her experiences from being part of the bid team, excerpts of it can be seen here.
  • Peter Hargitay– The Hungarian born public relations officer was hired for his supposed influence and connections within the FIFA Executive Committee, which he himself boasted about. A former special adviser (whatever that means) to FIFA president Sepp Blatter and a man with a colourful past which include being arrested for alleged cocaine trafficking and accusations of fraud. Formerly employed by England’s World Cup bidding team before being removed due to his shady past.
  • Fedor Radamann- The German businessman who was the former managing director of Sepp Blatters’ now defunct marketing agency International Sports and Leisure (ISL). The company collapsed after mismanagement of funds and accusations of bribes and fraud within its staff (Radamann was never accused). He was also part of the 2006 German World Cup bid which has been accusations of dodgy deals and corruption. He was seen as a marketing and PR expert.
  • Andreas Abold– Owner of German based design company ‘Abold’ the group responsible for the 2006 German World Cup logo. Abold has close links to Radamann as they had both done business deals together stretching back over 13 years. Abold was given two contracts by the FFA (who appeared to not accept or consider other design companies) tasked with 1.) Producing the Bid Book- A book that will help present the case for Australia to host the World Cup and the second contract is labeled ‘International Relations /Advocacy’. Make of that what you will because I have no idea what that means. The Age seems to deduce that this secondary contract, that is worth $3.7m, is used “at least partly, towards financing Radmann’s duties.”

Around this time Australia had left the Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) and joined the Asian Football Confederation (AFC). It was a move to help the growth of the game by bringing a more competitive edge to the opposition Australia would face in its quest to qualify for future World Cups (As thrashing tiny island nations was helping no one). Australia had only recently emerged from its dark days of the old ‘Soccer Australia’ establishment. A new board was in place after Frank Lowy and John O’Neil (who previously had Ben Buckley’s job) took over in 2003 and hope was restored. But the FFA were still finding their feet. ” We would be naive to think ” said Ben Buckley “We, as a relative newcomer on the international football stage, had all the expertise to deliver the best outcome.”  With these words said the recruitment drive started and the three European consultants were hired along with Bonita Mersiades who was once regarded as ‘one of the most powerful women in Australian sport by the Australian.

Australia would get its first glimpse of the kind of luxuries the FIFA executives are used to in 2008 when Sydney hosted the annual FIFA congress. Frank Lowy saw an opportunity to impress a large group of FIFA delegates all at one time by hosting the congress. Hopefully it could prove to be a masterstroke in the future. “The FIFA congress was very, very important to the FFA” Mersiades states ” It gave us an opportunity to show off Australian expertise, Australian know-how in terms of organization, so it was a great opportunity in terms of our bid aspirations to be front and center.” The razzle dazzle of the event in the Opera House was designed to impress the executives and it was here that then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced that the Australian government would be backing the FFA’s bid to host the World Cup. Further more the FFA would start playing the long bidding game as Mr Lowy hosted a private dinner for the  24 executives and their wives and lavished them with gifts. Among them were pearl ear-rings and pendants that totaled almost $100,000. This move is defended by Peter Hargitay who states that all nations that host the FIFA congress produce gifts.

Mersiades first met Peter Hargitay in Sydney in February 2009 and from the excerpts from her book ‘The Bid’ it would seem that she was hardly impressed by him. He appears to tell her and Ben Buckley nothing they didn’t already know and he would go on to claim to have Jack Warner (the head of the North American football body CONCACAF, another shady character) and the president of the AFC Mohamed Bin Hammam in his back pocket and thus guaranteeing a few votes- they had 6 votes between them. We now know that this was not the case, in fact it’s interesting that these two figures have now been removed from he FIFA circle after investigations into their backgrounds after accusations of corruption and bribery emerged. When Lowy asks Mersiades what she thinks of Hargitay she replies it’s not important what she thinks of him, it’s only important whether he can do what he says he can deliver. When asked if she thinks he can deliver she retorts to Lowy: Do you? “I have to” is the reply “I have to believe.

To play the bidding game you have to do favours for others in return for votes, that’s how the game is played. The FFA saw in FIFA’s bid stipulations that all bidding nations “must have a legacy program giving aid to overseas football confederations”. The closest confederation that had power to vote would come from the one it had just left, the OFC. What they wanted is probably not what you would expect. Head of the OFC, Reynald Temarii wanted Hyundai vehicles for each of his associations (except New Zealand) and the TV rights for A-League and Australian nation sides matches in Oceania. They asked and got what they wanted after Australia struck a deal that would see “up to $4 million over three years” promised to fund towards Oceania’s development, the bid team had promised to work with AusAID (Australia’s international development agency) to deliver on the OFC’s requests.

Next up to try to see what they could out of Australia in exchange for the faint hope of winning a few votes is the AFC. The confederation Australia had recently joined. The AFC had three votes that would go towards deciding the destination of the World Cup compared to the OFC’s one so giving them what they wanted seemed a like  smart move in the long run. Then president of AFC Bin Hammam initially promised to back Australia’s bid for the 2018 World Cup when he was in Sydney in 2008, he had also mentioned his idea for a football development program called: Vision Asia when meeting Kevin Rudd and Frank Lowy. After the FFA had agreed a deal to pledge $5.1 million to Dream Asia in June 201o Hammam announced that AFC would be backing a European host for the 2018 World Cup. Australia were being played for fools. For someone who claimed to be close to Hammam, Hargitay didn’t let on that he knew the AFC would support Europe.

Jack Warner with his three votes from the CONCACAF confederation was attempted to be wooed by the Australian bid team as they paid the flight bill in September 2009 for the under-20 Trinidad and Tobago’s sides to have a training camp in Cyprus. A delegate was also sent to Mr Warner after he had complained, after almost a year, that his wife had never got her pearls in Sydney. A delegate delivered what is thought to be a £2000 necklace to ease her suffering. $2.5 million was also offered to the Jamaican federation to help develop football. Why Jamaica? I’m not sure, but I’m sure the fact that Peter Hargitay owned a house there didn’t influence the decision at all.

Mr Hargitay is reported to have been paid $1.35 million for his consulting duties, with a further $2.54 to him and his company should Australia achieve success with the 2018 World Cup. Mr Radmann is said to have earned up to $3.9 million for his part with a further a success bonus of $3.99 million while Mr Abold was promised £3.9 million should his Bid Book prove successful. These three players would tell Bonita and Buckley that the bid book and the final presentation were not influential towards a decision. But when the accounts were audited it found that the bid book, technical inspection and final presentation cost up to $10.3 million. One quarter of the entire bid budget. For something that was not so important they should did spend a lot of money on it. England’s bid book only cost $3 million, but to be fair they didn’t win either.

If you’re keeping up you would being do well to think what exactly did these men do for our bid? Well the answer would seem to be that their roles were to perform behind close doors and attempt to influence those in a position of power to vote for Australia. Something that clearly they didn’t do very well. But why pick these men to do these dirty deeds? Well Mr Radamann was previously involved in Germany’s bid for the 2006 World Cup, there were fears at the time that South Africa were a real threat to their bid. At the last moment Radamann is said to have bribed or ‘persuaded’ FIFA executives to vote for Germany. Even Hargitay was weary of including Radamann on any official FFA payslips so it was suggested that his involvement should be kept off the books. In an internal e-mail he states: “Please do not list Fedor [Radamann] in the receipt lines! You simply MUST NOT  do that. Why? Because you are thus jeopardizing everything.” Hargitay denies any knowledge of this e-mail, funny that.

In September 2009 there is a telephone conference going on between Hargitay, Radamann, Adolb, Buckley and Mersiades. It’s here that the extent of these three consultants genius will be reviled. Having come together to discuss marketing, media, PR and shareholder management issues. Adolb pipes up with a suggestion: ‘You know what you need Ben? You need to have some ambassadors for the bid.” Buckley and Mersiades seem reluctant to the idea claiming that they’ve already considered that. They have perviously drew up a list of potential ambassadors but the idea was rejected. When Hargitay ask by who, the answer is by Frank Lowy. The room falls silent. Adolb argues that ambassadors are needed for ‘internal purposes’ meaning that they well generate interest and support at home.  Hargitay assures the others that he will speak to Lowy. Adolb adds to his argument reciting the time Germany used Claudia Schiffer as it’s ambassador for its bid, as if to say that that one detail tipped the vote in their favour. Eyes are rolled by Buckley and Mersiades. It’s suggested that Australia has big names and needs to use them. Mersiades speaks up:

The key thing is to keep it Australian. It goes with our branding, we can’t compete with David Beckham and we can’t afford to pay people like Qatar are, be we can can be genuinely Australian. That’s why we’ve got kids coming to South Africa with us in December. It reinforces how genuine we are.”

As if to confirm that we wasn’t even listening at all Hargitay replies: ‘Usan Bolt!” Usan is the answer! Hargitay knows him and he will do anything he asks him to. Plus Jack Warner loves him apparently so there’s three votes in the bag. The phone conference ends and much later in January 2010 Bonita Mersiades leaves the bid team. It’s claimed it is because she has had a falling out with the international bid consultants but in an interview with the Australian newspaper, asked if that is true Mersiades says she “cannot answer that question as I am bound by a confidentiality agreement.

Now this all brings us to the faithful night in Zürich in December 2010.The Australian bid delegation of Frank Lowy, Ben Buckley, Governor General Quentin Byrce, Australia’s men and women’s captains Lucas Neill and Melissa Barbieri are joined by probably our best known player Tim Cahill. But there is a surprise inclusion in the group. Someone to add the wow factor and surly sway the favour of any undecided voters. Super model Elle Macpherson has made an appearance and has claimed she ‘loves’ Frank. Those three consultants time and effort is about to pay-off. What will unfold that night is the presentation of a video that while wouldn’t have won any votes probably helped ease the conscious of anybody who felt guilty about not voting for Australia. Firstly the 2018 World Cup host is decided and Russia is announced as the hosts of the 2018 World Cup. After some celebration, shocked looks on the England teams faces and some boring words by Sepp Blatter the night moves onto the 2022 World Cup. The Australian contingent has no idea that they already been eliminated from the race. Blatter holds the envelope aloft and after some poor attempt at building suspense pulls out the card to reveal the name of Qatar. A sort of stunned silence comes over the crowd as screams  and yell out from the Qatari team. Tears are shed by certain members of the team as the magnitude of their achievement sinks in. The trophy is passed around the delegation as the crowd tries to keep up the fake enthusiastic claps for them. Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad Al-Thani takes to the microphone and thanks FIFA for believing in change and for believing in expanding the game. He promises that they will be proud of them. Elsewhere in Australia, journalists are sharpening their pens and looking into what went wrong. It’s later relived that Australia were eliminated in the first of four rounds of voting with only one vote out of 22.

Afterwards Frank Lowy is interviewed

” Australia, what can I say? I can only say that I am bitterly disappointed. I am disappointed for you that we could not deliver the 2022 World Cup, but what can you do? We did our best and I know we could not have done anything better.

It’s a sad end, especially for a man who knows that time is a precious commodity. Lowy is now 82 years old and because of his age he dreamed of seeing a World Cup in Australia. He had wished it to be the legacy that he left behind for the game. He rushed into the idea of hosting a World Cup when the game was just starting to find its feet again in an extremely competitive market in Australia. Realistically the next time that Australia could host the World Cup under FIFA’s rotation policy would either be in 2034 or 2038. The reaction in Australia is one of astonishment. Qatar weren’t even meant to be in the running! Where the hell is Qatar anyway? Doesn’t FIFA know we hosted the ‘best’ Olympics ever? All these things were said by fans and morning television hosts. Even SBS football pundit Les Murray was in disbelief “FIFA is in big trouble. Nobody will believe that Qatar won this process legitimately – people will probe away asking questions.” A rather curious thing to say from a man who is supposed to part of FIFA’s ethics comity.

Since that date we have seen the folding of North Queensland Fury and Gold Coast United in the A-League. Clubs struggle to make a profit and need the help of the FFA and rich businessmen to keep them afloat. In a league where every dollar is vital surely the $46 million that was used on a failed bit could have been better spent. But that’s using the power of hindsight which is hardly ever helpful. Yet the question remains why did we bother bidding when it seems even one of the consultants, Peter Hargitay, never believed in the bid:

So we lost. Now are we proud of it? Of course not. Could we have avoided it?. . . . . . . . Maybe not. In hindsight, maybe not.

Bloody hindsight.

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Have to acknowledge some writers here as this was hardly all my own work:

James Corbett and his article in The Blizzard entitled: The Fall-Out.

Tom Dunmore and his three stories talking about Australia’s World Cup bid:

1- FIFA’s Inadequate Code Of Ethics And Australia’s World Cup Bid.

2- Paying Peter Hargitay: The Price Of A World Cup Bid

3- Australia’s 2022 World Cup Bid and Fedor Radmann: Buying FIFA Connections

And also the Four Corners report by Quentin McDermott, link to the video on Part one of this story.

Finally I borrowed heavily from the excerpts from Bonita Mersiades’s book: The Bid- Secrets of the Battle to Host the World Cup.

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