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FIFA's chief investigator escalates World Cup inquiry

A logo of the International Federation of Football Association (FIFA) is pictured at the Home of FIFA in Zurich July 5, 2012. REUTERS/Michae
A logo of the International Federation of Football Association (FIFA) is pictured at the Home of FIFA in Zurich July 5, 2012. REUTERS/Michae

By Mike Collett

LONDON (Reuters) - FIFA's chief investigator is escalating his inquiry into the voting procedures for the 2018 and 2022 soccer World Cups which have been dogged by controversy.

Michael Garcia, a former New York attorney and head of the FIFA ethics committee's investigative unit, will visit every country directly involved in the voting for the finals awarded to Russia for 2018 and Qatar for 2022.

The voting procedure for 2022 has never escaped widespread allegations of corruption or rule-breaking. FIFA will this week consider whether to move the tournament to a new date, away from the fierce heat of a Qatari summer.

"I will conduct interviews in various places and I hope that those who have some information, even if they are not obliged to give me some, will agree to talk to me," Garcia told weekly magazine France Football on Tuesday.

"My goal is to submit a report that covers the World Cup bidding and awarding process."

A source close to the bidding process told Reuters: "It is very well known in FIFA circles what went on as far as Qatar was concerned.

"There was undoubted political interference, which is expressly forbidden by FIFA, and votes promised to one country were later switched to Qatar.

"The rules were ignored and now FIFA is left with a huge problem to clean up," added the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Garcia will re-examine allegations about the voting process which reached its climax in Zurich on December 2, 2010, when FIFA awarded the two finals on the same day, something FIFA president Sepp Blatter has since publicly admitted was a mistake.

Although there is no doubt Russia will stage the 2018 finals as planned, FIFA's executive committee meets on Friday and could agree in principle to move the 2022 finals to a cooler time of year.

Not only are the heat and humidity in June and July an issue, but last week there were widespread allegations of ill-treatment and deaths among immigrant workers contracted to work on World Cup infrastructure projects.

FIFA HEADACHE

Reuters obtained a copy of the bid registration document - the 67-page file that specifies the conditions required to bid for the finals - which states that the 2022 World Cup must be played during the northern hemisphere summer.

Blatter last week said the World Cup should "in principle" take place in June or July, but those two words do not feature in the clauses relating to the timing of the finals.

"The final competitions of the FIFA World Cup are scheduled to take place as follows: the 21st edition in June and/or July 2018; the 22nd edition in June and/or July 2022," the document says.

The Confederations Cup, the eight-team run-through tournament held a year ahead of the finals, is scheduled for June in both 2017 and 2021.

Moving both the 2021 Confederations Cup and the 2022 World Cup could give FIFA a major headache.

Garcia has spent months compiling material and information and will begin his world tour in England on October 9, France Football reported on Tuesday.

England had high hopes of winning the right to stage the 2018 finals but was eliminated in the first round of voting.

An inquiry into the vote was held by the British parliament in 2011 following widespread allegations of bribery, corruption and political influence, all banned under FIFA's strict guidelines.

Since 2010, a number of high-profile members have left the executive committee following allegations of corruption.

Russia beat off joint bids from Spain/Portugal and the Netherlands/Belgium as well as England for 2018 while Qatar beat rival bids from the United States, Australia, South Korea and Japan for 2022.

According to France Football, countries who were beaten in the awarding process could file complaints to the Swiss authorities, saying the competitive nature of the bidding process had been distorted, if the World Cup was to take place at any time except June and July.

A change of date could also invalidate deals with broadcasters, the magazine said, quoting Fox Sports reporter Leander Schaerlaeckens as saying: "Deals were signed for a summer World Cup".

In 2011, Fox Sports agreed to pay a record $425 million for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments.

A winter World Cup would be in competition with some of the network's biggest assets such as the National Football League (NFL), and, if it was staged in January or February, the Winter Olympics and the Australian tennis Open.

(Additional reporting by Gregory Blachier in Paris; Editing by Clare Fallon)

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