ZURICH, Oct 19 (Reuters) - Two decades after quitting as a player, former Swiss striker Claudio Sulser may be about to make a far bigger mark on the game as head of the FIFA body investigating the credibility of the World Cup bidding process.
On Wednesday, Sulser and the ethics committee he chairs will start looking into allegations that executive committee members Reynald Temarii of Tahiti and Nigeria's Amos Adamu offered to sell their votes in the contest.
The committee will also probe suspicions of collusion between unnamed bidding nations, which was a risk from the moment FIFA decided that it would decide the hosts for two World Cups at the same time in early December.
Sulser netted 13 goals for Switzerland and once finished as top scorer in the European Cup while playing for Grasshoppers Zurich and while his career was more than respectable it is fair to say he has never been in the spotlight like he is now.
FIFA on Tuesday said it was too early to comment on whether a bidding nation could ultimately be disqualified for a serious breach of the rules.
With only the 24 executive committee members entitled to vote, the allegations are a blow to the credibility of the bidding process, which is due to reach a climax on December 2 when FIFA announces the two winners in Zurich.
Sulser never played in the World Cup but his committee must now try to limit damage that FIFA can ill-afford to the event which is the main reason for its existence.
"The information in the article has created a very negative impact on FIFA and on the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cups," FIFA president Sepp Blatter said in a statement.
Bidding nations have to obey guidelines which ban monetary gifts, collusion between national associations or criticism of other bids or the process itself.
The FIFA bidding process is still often compared unfavourably to the system the IOC uses for the Olympic Games, which was greatly tightened up following the bribery scandal involving the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics and where more than 100 IOC members have the vote.
Since the 2002 Salt Lake scandal, the IOC has prohibited visits to bid cities by any of its members, apart from the official evaluation commission that reports on the quality of the bids prior to the election.
One of the most striking aspects of the FIFA process is the openness of electoral campaigning and canvassing of executive committee members by bidding countries.
One case was Spain's trip to South America - their first for 29 years - to play a friendly in Argentina.
From a playing point of view, it seemed less than ideal as the world champions had to cram the trip in between a Euro 2012 qualifier in Liechtenstein and the following weekend's domestic league matches.
"This is not just about football, it's a commitment to a country with which we have close ties," said coach Vicente del Bosque after the Liechtenstein game.
The Spanish daily Marca reported that on the eve of the match, Spanish officials, whose country are jointly bidding with for the 2018 tournament along with Portugal, met Argentine FA president Julio Grondona, a member of the FIFA executive committee at a reception in Buenos Aires.
The newspaper gave full details of the event, telling readers that guests drank Rutini wine and ate alfajores, caramel-filled biscuits typical of Argentina.
It quoted Grondona as saying that "the 2018 World Cup should go to Spain".
Last month also saw David Beckham, who is helping the England bid for 2018, visit another executive committee member Jack Warner in his native Trinidad & Tobago.
This was also well publicised as was the visit of Ruud Gullit, president of the joint Netherlands/Belgium bid for 2018, to Paraguay to meet South American Confederation president Nicolas Leoz, another executive committee member.
Meanwhile Paraguay's national team, which often struggles to find friendlies due to the country's low profile and lack of away fans, has turned into a globe-trotting outfit, recently playing matches in China, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.
It can of course be argued that such visits are part of the interchanges which are crucial to the game's global development.
But the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) made no bones as to why members of the Russian 2018 bid had visited its president Ricardo Teixeira in Rio de Janeiro last month.
"The director general of Russia's 2018 bid, Alexei Sorokin, asked Ricardo Teixeira, who is one of the executive committee voters, for support for the Russian bid," it said.
FIFA executive committee member Chuck Blazer argued that a smaller electoral college was a good thing.
He told Reuters: "By having a small body decide where the World Cup will be held, you also can identify the people responsible for choosing the World Cup venue - the executive committee - because they are the same people responsible for making it work."comments