Fifa's ethics court began a three-day session yesterday to help decide if two voters and at least two countries should be barred from the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding contests for alleged corruption.
The unprecedented meeting in Zurich is expected to shape a tense final stretch of lobbying before Fifa's executive committee chooses the hosts in a secret ballot on December 2. The vote could proceed without Reynald Temarii and Amos Adamu, who are suspended from the 24-man body and will plead their case for reinstatement to the ethics committee.
Sepp Blatter, the Fifa president, has said the ethics probe should "bring back credibility to football".
Awarding a World Cup is Fifa's most important decision, with each tournament earning around 95 per cent of the governing body's income every four years. The process has been rocked by allegations by The Sunday Times last month. The UK newspaper published secretly filmed interviews with current and former Fifa officials which suggested voters could be bribed, and that bidders were striking vote-trading pacts.
Those being investigated have stressed their innocence and expressed confidence that the ethics panel will find no conclusive evidence of corruption.
"I have no doubt that I will vote on December 2," Temarii, a Fifa vice president, said last week. He said he would show that "grossly manipulated" interviews were edited to make him appear corrupt.
Mohammed bin Hammam, the Asian confederation president, has also defended his native Qatar, a 2022 candidate, against allegations of colluding with Spain/Portugal, a 2018 contender.
"I can bet you [that] you will never see any proof," bin Hammam told a Swiss television channel in an interview posted on his personal website.
Fifa has not said which of nine bidding nations it is investigating.
The European contest for 2018 is between England, Russia and the joint bids of Belgium/Netherlands and Spain/Portugal. The 2022 race involves the United States, Australia, Japan, South Korea and Qatar.
* Associated Press