Fifa official Mayne-Nicholls says probe will not influence decision on whether to stand against Blatter

Harold Mayne-Nicholls, who he is exploring running in Fifa’s presidential election in May, says Ethics Committee probe was only announced after he revealed plans to stand against Blatter.

Harold Mayne-Nicholls was tasked to lead a Fifa technical inspection team in 2010 that assessed candidates’ bidding for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup. Karim Jaafar / AFP
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DUBAI // The former Fifa inspector whose warnings about Qatar’s 2022 World Cup bid were ignored by global football’s governing body has said he was informed of an investigation into his conduct only after he announced potential plans to challenge Sepp Blatter for the Fifa presidency.

Harold Mayne-Nicholls, formerly head of the Chilean football federation, was tasked to lead a Fifa technical inspection team in 2010 that assessed candidates’ bidding for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. He found a summer tournament in Qatar to be a “high-risk option”, but the Gulf state was surprisingly selected regardless. Controversy has engulfed the event ever since.

Last month, Mayne-Nicholls said he is exploring potentially running in Fifa’s presidential election in May, but a little more than a month later it was reported he is being investigated by the organisation’s Ethics Committee. The body is studying an exchange of e-mails between Mayne-Nicholls and Qatar’s Aspire Academy regarding the possibility of unpaid internships for the his son, nephew and brother-in-law.

A Fifa insider said the proceedings into Mayne-Nicholls’s conduct had commenced before the Chilean had made known his presidential intentions. On Thursday, however, speaking on the sidelines of a Host Cities summit in Dubai, Mayne-Nicholls disputed the claim, but stressed he is not concerned by the investigation or its impact on his reputation.

“As a committee, they have the right to ask all the questions they need to in order to be sure about the final decision that will be taken,” Mayne-Nicholls, 53, said, adding that once he was informed of the investigation he told the committee he wanted total transparency and later tweeted the news.

“I do not think [the investigation] is because I might want to run. I think it is because the Ethics Committee needs to have a very clear picture about everything that happened in the 2018 and 2022 bids. I get relaxed with this because if they are investigating such a small thing then I can imagine how they are investigating the real, big things and that will give us transparency.”

When asked if he feared his reputation may be sullied during any potential election campaign, he told The National he was aware of the risks, but that it would not impact his decision.

“It’s part of the rules of the game when you run for such a position,” he said. “When I ran for the presidency of the Chilean FA, it was more or less the same. When you decide to take this kind of action, you know there are risks and one of them is people will try to damage you. But I don’t care. This kind of thing will never change my decision. If I decide to run for it, it is because that is the decision I have made; if I decide not to run, it is not because of anything like that.”

Mayne-Nicholls said he is still analysing the situation and will only decide whether to declare himself a candidate in January. Blatter has led Fifa since 1998 and been re-elected three times, but call for change is growing. Jerome Valcke, Fifa’s secretary general, said earlier this week it “will take years to rebuild our reputation”. Mayne-Nicholls is keen to help and said he has received considerable encouragement.

“The possibility is there and it motivates me very much to make some changes,” he said. “The secretary general said the image of Fifa cannot be lower, so things must change. It is very clear for everyone and, of course, that motivates me a lot.

“Twenty years ago, the IOC’s [International Olympic Committee’s] image was terrible, even worse than Fifa today. Now no one talks about the image of the Olympics, so you can do it – but you have to change the structure. You can’t keep the same people making the changes. You need new faces to change the old image of your organisation.”

All presidential candidates must declare their interest before January 29, four months before the election on May 29. So far only Blatter and Jerome Champagne, a former Fifa deputy general secretary, have confirmed their intentions.

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

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