Swiss prosecutors are believed to have launched investigations into World Cup ticketing contracts stretching back decades, opening up a new front in their probe into Fifa corruption.
World Cup tickets have been a source of controversy for decades and in a development that emphasises how hard it will be for the new Fifa president, Gianni Infantino, to get on the front foot and implement the “bright new dawn” he promised shortly after succeeding the disgraced Sepp Blatter, the Swiss attorney general is understood to be interviewing those involved in ticketing contracts stretching back to the 1990s.
Infantino is expected to look into all of Fifa’s existing contracts now that he has become president.
Deals that may be examined include those with Fifa’s official hospitality agency, Match. The company, run by brothers Jaime and Enrique Byrom, has held the contract to resell World Cup tickets as part of hospitality packages since the USA World Cup in 1994. It was first involved in reselling World Cup tickets at the 1986 finals in Mexico. In 2011, Fifa announced that Match Hospitality had gained exclusive hospitality rights to the 2018 World Cup in Russia and the 2022 tournament in Qatar without a tender.
A spokesman for Match said: “Neither Mr Byrom nor anyone at Match has been questioned by the Swiss authorities.” But they added that Jaime Byrom was prepared to help the Swiss authorities with their investigations “should they consider this of possible assistance”.
The spokesman added: “Match have always conducted all of their business in accordance with all Fifa regulations and applicable laws.”
Match hit the headlines during the 2014 World Cup when one of its executives, Ray Whelan, was arrested by Rio police for allegedly being involved in the resale of tickets. The company argued that police had misunderstood the nature of their business and that he was authorised to resell tickets as part of a hospitality package. The Rio court ruled there was insufficient evidence to prosecute Whelan and cited the “ineptitude” of the case against him.
Internal investigators at Fifa who are co-operating with Swiss authorities are believed to be focusing on four key areas of interest: World Cup tickets,; the suspect $10m payment that went to Jack Warner from South Africa’s 2010 World Cup organisers via Fifa; the spiralling investigation into the 2006 World Cup vote that has now led to the resignation of the president and general secretary of the German FA; and dubious TV contracts apparently undersold to Warner.
David Gill, the FA and Manchester United director who is on the executive board of both Fifa and Uefa, said he believed Infantino would begin to reverse Fifa’s commercial fortunes, with 27 of 34 sponsorship slots remaining unfilled before the 2018 World Cup in Russia and amid a stalled attempt to relaunch its portfolio.
“Now we have got a new start, the sales process will start and the sponsors will start coming in. He’ll look at the cost structure of the organisation,” said Gill.
“Let’s not do anything silly but at the same time the World Cup is a fantastic product and, given what rights values are going for in football, the World Cup is a great commercial property.”
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