By Daniel Etchells
Qatar has been effectively cleared to host the 2022 World Cup after chairman of the Adjudicatory Chamber of the FIFA Ethics Committee, Hans-Joachim Eckert, released a statement into the bidding process for the tournament which found they had done nothing wrong.
Eckert has published his 42-page initial findings of the investigation into the bidding processes for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, based on an 18-month inquiry conducted by the former United States attorney Michael Garcia.
FIFA's ethics investigator has not uncovered evidence that would justify stripping Qatar of its right to host the 2022 World Cup, despite numerous allegations being made against the country in the English media.
Qatar beat the United States, South Korea, Japan and Australia in the FIFA Executive Committee's 2010 vote, while the 2018 tournament went to Russia ahead of England and joint bids by Holland and Belgium and Spain and Portugal.
The report effectively confirms Qatar and Russia as hosts, stating any rule breaches by the bidding countries were "of very limited scope".
"In particular, the effects of these occurrences on the bidding process as a whole were far from reaching any threshold that would require returning to the bidding process, let alone reopening it," states Eckert.
The report also clears Qatar of involvement in any payments by Mohamed Bin Hammam, the Qatari former FIFA Executive Committee member banned for life by FIFA.
"The relationship between him [Bin Hammam] and the bid team appeared to have been somewhat distant relative to the relationships of other FIFA Executive Committee members from bid nations," read the statement.
The President of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), Shaikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, has conveyed his confidence in the findings.
"The AFC has always stood by Qatar as we defend their right to host the 2022 World Cup, and this finding reaffirms our belief and support for the country.
"We would now be able to move on and work with Qatar to ensure that we deliver the best World Cup that Asia can offer.
"There are matters to be ironed out of course including the timing of the World Cup, but we are committed to get it done.
"I would also like to call upon all Asian nations to continue showing support for Qatar as we have been doing since they won the bid.
"This is an important moment for Asia, and we have a wonderful opportunity to create history."
Russia came in for some criticism in the report which found they failed to provide copies of all their emails from the bid organisation on the basis that their computer equipment has since been scrapped.
The report also criticised England's bid for the 2018 tournament, with the Football Association's (FA) relationship with former FIFA vice-president Jack Warner highlighted.
"England 2018's top officials in response not only provided the individual concerned with employment opportunities, but also kept Mr Warner apprised of their efforts as they solicited his support for the bid.
"The bid team often accommodated Mr Warner's wishes, in apparent violation of bidding rules and the FIFA Code of Ethics.
"England's response to Mr Warner's - improper - demands, in at a minimum always seeking to satisfy them in some way, damaged the integrity of the ongoing bidding process.
In response to the statement, an FA spokesman said: "We note the FIFA Ethics Committee has today published a 42-page report in relation to the bidding processes for the FIFA World Cups in 2018 and 2022.
"We were not given any prior notice of the report before publication.
"We do not accept any criticism regarding the integrity of England's bid or any of the individuals involved.
"We conducted a transparent bid and, as the report demonstrates with its reference to the England bid team's 'full and valuable cooperation', willingly complied with the investigation.
"We maintain that transparency and cooperation around this entire process from all involved is crucial to its credibility.
"We also note that after a lengthy investigatory process and assessment, the report has concluded that the 'potentially problematic facts and circumstances identified by the report regarding the England 2018 bid were, all in all, not suited to compromise the integrity of the FIFA World Cup 2018/22 bidding process as a whole'."
The report also claims Australia made efforts to woo Warner and Oceania chief Reynald Temarii, by providing money for development projects.
In an interim response to the statement, Football Federation Australia (FFA) said "it will seek advice from the FIFA Ethics Committee on the next steps in the process".
"FFA notes that the Australian bid team cooperated fully with the inquiry and provided transparency on the conduct of the bid," the statement added.
"FFA will now fully review the statement and its findings before making any further comment."
FIFA has also issued a statement in response to the report's publication.
"FIFA welcomes the fact that a degree of closure has been reached with the chairman of the Adjudicatory Chamber stating today that 'the evaluation of the 2018/2022 FIFA World Cups bidding process is closed for the FIFA Ethics Committee'," the statement read.
"This comes after the chairman stated that 'as regards the procedural framework for conducting bidding procedures related to awarding the hosts of the final competitions of FIFA World Cups, the Investigatory Chamber of the FIFA Ethics Committee did not find any violations or breaches of the relevant rules and regulations'.
"As such, FIFA looks forward to continuing the preparations for Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022, which are already well underway.
"For the sake of further closure, FIFA supports the independent Ethics Committee with respect to their preparedness to potentially open future cases against officials based on the information obtained during this investigation.
"Finally, FIFA acknowledges the recommendations mentioned in the statement with regard to improving the bidding process for future FIFA World Cups, but also notes the comments of the chairman of the Adjudicatory Chamber regarding the bidding process for the 2018/2022 FIFA World Cups as 'well-thought, robust and professional'."
To read the full statement, click here.
Contact the writer of this story at [email protected]
November 2014: Qatar to be cleared of corruption over 2022 FIFA World Cup bid
October 2014: FIFA chief ethics investigator Garcia reiterates call for transparency
October 2014: Former FIFA watchdog member calls for Blatter to resign to restore "credibility"
October 2014: Asia united behind Qatar 2022 over corruption allegations motivated by "racism", promises Sheikh Ahmad