How much did our World Cup bid really cost us?

Mike Tuckerman Columnist

By Mike Tuckerman, Mike Tuckerman is a Roar Expert

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    Australian soccer stars Harry Kewell, left, Collette McCallum 2nd left, Cheryl Salisbury, 2nd right, and Australia's Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in Sydney, Australia. AP Photo/Rob Griffith

    We already know Australia’s bid to host the football World Cup cost taxpayers more than $45 million. But in the wake of stunning corruption allegations made against FIFA presidential challenger Mohamed Bin Hammam this week, did the bid cost us more than just cash?

    At the start of the week, Fairfax investigative journalists Richard Baker and Nick McKenzie revealed the federal government was not informed by Football Federation Australia of their decision to hire Peter Hargitay and Fedor Radmann as consultants.

    Hargitay elicits nine separate references in “Foul,” Andrew Jennings’ lengthy 2006 exposé on FIFA corruption, and the UK-based journalist made an appearance on the ABC’s Lateline during the week in which he slammed the FFA’s handling of the bid.

    “You got conned out of lots of money and now you’re still running this crap that somehow Australia nearly got it,” Jennings said of a multi-million dollar campaign which yielded just one vote.

    The outspoken journalist alleged that Hargitay told FFA chief executive Ben Buckley to sack former head of corporate and public affairs Bonita Mersiades because she expressed reservations to FFA chairman Frank Lowy about Hargitay and Radmann’s involvement.

    It’s an allegation backed up by Baker and McKenzie, who wrote that Mersiades “expressed disquiet about the consultants in emails to the government.”

    Despite signing a confidentiality agreement upon her dismissal, Mersiades emailed a former colleague during the week to confirm Buckley told her she was sacked because of pressure from Hargitay – an allegation the FFA later said was “unsubstantiated.”

    Whatever the machinations of the dismissal – the explicit details of which are between Mersiades and the FFA – the end result is that Australia has lost a well respected, passionate advocate of football.

    And with the A-League in particular struggling to maintain traction in the crowded Australian sports market, surely administrators of Mersiades’ calibre are something the FFA can ill afford to lose.

    There’s some irony in the fact such dissent was revealed in the same week Ben Buckley faced the music from angry supporters at Sydney’s fan forum.

    Buckley should be applauded for fronting at a time of growing fan anger, even if some of his responses sounded more like Orwellian doublespeak than the thoughts of a man in tune with his audience.

    He of course has a new head of communications in Kyle Patterson to fall back on should the message ever got lost, with Patterson’s appointment widely applauded following an 18-year career as a broadcaster with SBS.

    But Patterson’s new brief is to control the information coming from FFA headquarters, and as we’ve seen with the axing of Mersiades, the game’s governing body doesn’t take too kindly to those not singing from the same hymn sheet.

    So don’t expect someone like Andrew Jennings to go knocking on the FFA’s door for a friendly chat, because I’m sure they’d get short shrift from experienced media man Patterson and his colleagues.

    And Australian fans will remain none the wiser about what really went on behind the closed doors of our failed bid, despite the fact Hargitay and Radmann were “paid millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money,” according to Baker and McKenzie.

    So how much did Australia’s failed World Cup bid really cost us?

    It cost taxpayers plenty of cash at a time when A-League clubs are struggling desperately for revenue, even if the costs of such bids invariably run into the millions.

    It cost the FFA a well connected, highly respected administrator in Bonita Mersiades – a woman who at one stage was the Socceroos’ team manager and who has a long association with the game.

    And if the FFA tries to close ranks on journalists asking questions about how the bid was funded and how much consultants were paid, ultimately it could cost Australian football its integrity.

    Mike Tuckerman
    Mike Tuckerman

    Mike Tuckerman is a Sydney-born journalist and lifelong football fan. After lengthy stints watching the beautiful game in Germany and Japan, he settled in Brisbane, and has been a leading Roar football columnist from December 2008.

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    The Crowd Says (127)

    • May 27th 2011 @ 5:50am
      Fake ex-AFL fan said | May 27th 2011 @ 5:50am | ! Report

      All excellent points Mike, but I don’t recall many soccer supporters supporting Baker & McKenzie when they first made their allegations. If I remember correctly, the general consensus amongst soccer fans was they were evil, filthy traitors in the pay of the wicked AFL and determined to destroy our wonderful WC bid. It turns out they were professional journalists raising legitimate questions. Go figure.

      • May 27th 2011 @ 3:33pm
        JohnB said | May 27th 2011 @ 3:33pm | ! Report

        Baker & McKenzie are lawyers.

        • May 28th 2011 @ 11:22pm
          Axelv said | May 28th 2011 @ 11:22pm | ! Report

          lol, Fake ex-AFL Fan using his tin foil hat, no doubt!

          • May 28th 2011 @ 11:50pm
            Fake ex-AFL fan said | May 28th 2011 @ 11:50pm | ! Report

            Baker & McKenzie are the Fairfax journos who’ve been running with the story for the past few months. Do keep up boys.

    • Roar Guru

      May 27th 2011 @ 6:28am
      mds1970 said | May 27th 2011 @ 6:28am | ! Report

      The bid cost football a lot more than money.
      $46m of taxpayers’ money is one thing, but it also used up a lot of political capital. It burned bridges with other sports. And it squandered the public goodwill the game had built up in 2005/06.
      But most importantly, it diverted the FFA’s energies and resources from building a viable A-League. The FFA had done a great job with that early in its existence, but when they got distracted by the bid, which Blind Freddie could see was unwinnable, that momentum was lost.

      It was a mistake to bid, one that has cost football dearly. It would have been better for football if the bid had never happened.

      • May 27th 2011 @ 6:45am
        Fake ex-AFL fan said | May 27th 2011 @ 6:45am | ! Report

        In hindsight unquestionably true, but I don’t think the idea of bidding was a terrible one. No harm in throwing your hat in the ring, the real problems emerged from the excessively high expectations set that led to people thinking we were a serious chance, combined with the fatal strategic decision to attempt to negotiate with the AFL as if it was soccer coming from a position of strength rather than the other way around. Frank is clearly used to dealing with people as he deals with his shopping centre tenants and it took quite a while for him to realise he was operating in a completely different paradigm. By then it was too late and the whole bid had been poisoned and the bridges burnt.

        • May 27th 2011 @ 8:46am
          Aka said | May 27th 2011 @ 8:46am | ! Report

          What do you mean ‘fatal stategic attempt..’ when referring to negotiate with the AFL re:stadiums? Australia had an excellent technical bid. What bridges were burnt that damaged our bid? How was the bid poisoned?

          The bid gave Australia fantastic exposure internationally.

          And lets face it even AFL fans were starting to dream of what it could do for their sport.

          • Roar Guru

            May 27th 2011 @ 9:01am
            The_Wookie said | May 27th 2011 @ 9:01am | ! Report

            if you think the AFL is going to be even half as nice next time around, you might be in for a surprise

            • May 27th 2011 @ 9:40am
              punter said | May 27th 2011 @ 9:40am | ! Report

              Sorry Wookie, with the SOO & the Champions league final on Sunday, we in the northern sates having been paying much attention to what the AFL has to say, please enlighten us.

              • May 27th 2011 @ 2:18pm
                BrissyBoy said | May 27th 2011 @ 2:18pm | ! Report

                Speak for yourself punter… Plenty of us up here don’t watch the SOO or the soccer.

              • May 27th 2011 @ 4:13pm
                punter said | May 27th 2011 @ 4:13pm | ! Report

                Brissy boy, you are surely in the minority there.

              • May 27th 2011 @ 9:48pm
                Bruce said | May 27th 2011 @ 9:48pm | ! Report

                There’s a whole lot more that have nothing to do with AFL.

            • May 27th 2011 @ 12:17pm
              Bondy said | May 27th 2011 @ 12:17pm | ! Report

              The Wookie .
              There will be no form of negtotiating with aussie rules next time , as i wrote a couple of days ago.
              Does the Nation want it ( politicians ) or not.
              At every stage aussie rules tried to take some form of control but he was left with egg all over his face and went back to his media with stories of persecicution, to me that was my world cup moment.

              • Roar Guru

                May 27th 2011 @ 12:27pm
                The_Wookie said | May 27th 2011 @ 12:27pm | ! Report

                unfortunately the real world has things like contracts which will still be in force at major stadiums given the AFl has 20-30 year contracts at most of these as a condition of the upgrades to these grounds.

                Not to mention that the government still wont have any control over etihad next time. MCG availability was only given after the AFL voluntarily stepped back from its contract for the world cup period…after the response last time I wouldnt be too sure of that happening again.

            • May 27th 2011 @ 12:19pm
              Aka said | May 27th 2011 @ 12:19pm | ! Report

              Why? Weren’t they happy with what they negotiated?

      • Roar Guru

        May 27th 2011 @ 9:43am
        Fussball ist unser leben said | May 27th 2011 @ 9:43am | ! Report

        Another day, another football issue and … so much interest from non-Football fans!

        And, as a football fan, I honestly couldn’t give a stuff what the illiterates across the non-Football community in Australia thinks about any issue relating to The Beautiful game.

        • May 27th 2011 @ 5:24pm
          JohnB said | May 27th 2011 @ 5:24pm | ! Report

          Great troll! The deliberate inconsistencies/errors in using capitals and the grammatical error in the paragraph pretending to disparage the illiterates from other codes gave it away though. Better next time to just play it straight.

          • May 28th 2011 @ 1:01pm
            jeznez said | May 28th 2011 @ 1:01pm | ! Report

            Fussball, if I could read them I’m sure I’d be offended!

    • May 27th 2011 @ 8:13am
      agga78 said | May 27th 2011 @ 8:13am | ! Report

      Well we do have the Asian cup in 2015, it will capture the imagination of the nation, 16 nations vying for the prize and the tournment we should of first tried to get, then a womans world cup, then we should of gone after the mens world cup, it was Frank Lowys dream to get it in his lifetime and he gambled and lost.

      It is too late now to harp on about the world cup bid, now is the time to Focus on the A league, W league and fostering the great youngsters coming through the A league. We have the Asian cup in 2015 and I would like us too bid for the womans world cup for 2019.

      Mike and other bloggers on the Roar we really need to start focusing on all the positives in Australian football, like these fan forums which at least have FFA listening to our concerns and hopefully implenting change, the rising quality of the A league which I can see going up a notch again this season.

      I am very bullish that the new A league season will see the average crowds start to rise again, remember last season there were midweek games every week almost and this season they have cut them down to the holiday period. I have seen a tweet from Murray Shaw a producer for foxsports and he said he has seen next seasons draw and it is the best in the 6 year history of the league.

      • May 27th 2011 @ 8:38am
        Binnie said | May 27th 2011 @ 8:38am | ! Report

        we can start focusing on the positives of football after the FFA have taken accountability and the public know the truth, you sound like you want to sweep these issues under the rug, just like FIFA,
        The hypocrosy of australians! FFA are just as bad as FIFA
        hiring two crooks like hartigay and radmann and trying to hide it from the government, why didnt the billionare fund it if they were so crucial to the bid. they both have a seedy past that has not been proven in a court of law but i bet all the allegations are true.

        Good on Bonita Mersiades! now the truth is out, one day i hope you break your silence agreement and speak out against these crooks representating australian soccer.

        • May 27th 2011 @ 8:41am
          nordster said | May 27th 2011 @ 8:41am | ! Report

          on the other hand, some people just want to milk all the negatives for all they’re worth… if its not one thing, its something else… some of us are just excited (and yes, Positive) about the upcoming season.

          +1 for agga78

      • Roar Guru

        May 27th 2011 @ 10:48am
        mds1970 said | May 27th 2011 @ 10:48am | ! Report

        Let’s hope so. The midweek games were a crowd-killer – great for telly, but not so easy to get to after work.

        And you’re right, there are positives out there. Although my club (Sydney FC) went backwards last year, most other clubs improved on the field – the standard of play in the A-League overall is probably the best it’s ever been. The grand final between the Roar and the Mariners last year was a beauty.
        With a later start to avoid a clash with the AFL and NRL finals, less midweek games, and the A-League getting a greater focus without the distraction of a World Cup bid, I agree – there’s plenty of scope for a recovery in attendances this season.

      • May 27th 2011 @ 12:25pm
        Bondy said | May 27th 2011 @ 12:25pm | ! Report

        Well said.

      • May 27th 2011 @ 2:29pm
        BrissyBoy said | May 27th 2011 @ 2:29pm | ! Report

        Yeah, I can’t wait for Uzbekistan v Iran. I’ve been hanging out for that match up for yonks.

        • May 27th 2011 @ 4:15pm
          punter said | May 27th 2011 @ 4:15pm | ! Report

          Yes abit like me hanging out for the Lions v the Power or the Dockers!!!! They are lining the streets of Bejing, Paris & Rio to watch these matches. NOT!!!!

        • May 27th 2011 @ 9:54pm
          Titus said | May 27th 2011 @ 9:54pm | ! Report

          Would actually be a pretty good game.

        • May 27th 2011 @ 10:01pm
          Joe FC said | May 27th 2011 @ 10:01pm | ! Report

          Care to tell us what you don’t like about Uzbekistanis and Iranians?

          • May 27th 2011 @ 10:56pm
            Evan Askew said | May 27th 2011 @ 10:56pm | ! Report

            Uzbeistan is inferior compared to the glorious nation of Kazahkstan!

    • May 27th 2011 @ 8:57am
      jamesb said | May 27th 2011 @ 8:57am | ! Report

      i agree agga78

    • May 27th 2011 @ 9:07am
      Chris said | May 27th 2011 @ 9:07am | ! Report

      “It cost taxpayers plenty of cash at a time when A-League clubs are struggling desperately for revenue, even if the costs of such bids invariably run into the millions.”

      What’s the point in saying this? The implication that the $45m would have come the way of the A-League if the bid hadn’t happened is just plain wrong.

      “It cost the FFA a well connected, highly respected administrator in Bonita Mersiades – a woman who at one stage was the Socceroos’ team manager and who has a long association with the game.”

      Maybe, although there is only rumour and unsubstantiated accusations to back this point up. And at the end of the day, if Mersiades is that important to the FFA, what’s to stop her being re-hired?

      “And if the FFA tries to close ranks on journalists asking questions about how the bid was funded and how much consultants were paid, ultimately it could cost Australian football its integrity.”
      The FFA is simply acting like every other sporting organisation in the world in that it wants to manage/control its information. The media and the public will always want to know more information that organisations are prepared to share. I’ts just the way it is.

      • May 27th 2011 @ 10:13am
        oly said | May 27th 2011 @ 10:13am | ! Report

        I agree, I get sick of people mentioning the $46M and then saying A-League are struggling. It was federal funding and wouldn’t have gone to the FFA for other areas.

        Also, if you watched the Lateline interview on Monday, Jennings was making one claim after another without actually having any evidence to back it all up.

        • Columnist

          May 27th 2011 @ 11:14am
          Mike Tuckerman said | May 27th 2011 @ 11:14am | ! Report

          I take your point oly (and Chris) but I think mds1970 covered it well when he said the bid “squandered the public goodwill.” The perception is out there among casual sports fans that the FFA mismanaged funds and I don’t think it helps elicit much sympathy for struggling A-League clubs.

      • May 27th 2011 @ 1:40pm
        Ted Mulder said | May 27th 2011 @ 1:40pm | ! Report

        Chris, I am that former colleague who received that Merciades email. I am not going to replicate that email here, even though Bonnie has given me permission to reveal the relevant portions wherever I deem it appropriate. It’s enough to confirm that Jennings spoke the truth about the circumstances of her sacking, at least. I have forwarded the relevant portions to those people who are in a position to write about this whole affair. Bonnie thus far has been tied to a confidentiality agreement and she has been ethical enough to respect that agreement. Even to me previously. However, in light of the latest revelations she feels the agreement has become somewhat redundant. I have no doubt all this will become a rollercoaster and Bonnie may find good reason in due course to reveal all she knows. I also hope that, should the FFA finds the situation to become untenable enough with the current honchos to seek a total re-organisation wth new people, Bonnie finds herself re- appointed to her previous role and Australian football will be so much the better for it in the future.

    • May 27th 2011 @ 9:07am
      Tigranes said | May 27th 2011 @ 9:07am | ! Report

      it wasnt so long ago that soccer heads got angry when people questioned using Hargitay and Co, with the argument being that these guys opened doors at level we mere Australians could never hope to understand.

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