By Florian Gheorghe
A huge corruption scandal threatens to put the global game in disarray. Already the arrests and charges made on Wednesday shook the very foundation of the football world’s governing body turning what should have been a quiet FIFA Congress into one overcrowded and over-scrutinized crime scene.
A total of 9 football officials and 5 corporate executives were arrested in both Zurich, Switzerland and Miami Beach, USA earlier on Wednesday as part of a US Department of Justice investigation. They were charged with multiple felonies including racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies, according to Associated Press. Seven of them were in Zurich taking part at the FIFA Congress gathered to elect a new – and old – president. Two of them are FIFA vice-presidents – Jeffrey Webb and Eugenio Figueredo – while the other five rank fairly high on the football ladder: Eduard Li is the president of the Costa Rican Federation (FEDEFUT); Julio Rocha is a former Nicaraguan Football Federation president; Costas Takkas is current attaché to CONCACAF president; Jack Warner is a former FIFA vice-president; Rafael Esquivel is the Venezuelan Football Federation president (FVF); José Maria Marin is a former Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) president and Nicolas Leoz is a former CONMEBOL president.
“The indictment alleges corruption that is rampant, systemic and deep-rooted both abroad and here in the United States. It spans at least two generations of soccer officials who, as alleged, have abused their position of trust to acquire millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks,” US attorney General Flynch said in an official statement.
More specific, the investigation talks about $150 million in ‘dirty’ money paid to buy the media and marketing rights to several international football tournaments held in the two Americas between 1991 and today. Moreover, the American authorities state that they have found $110 million in bribes linked to staging the 2016 Copa America held in the US.
As a result to the charges, FIFA suspended 11 officials – the nine plus American soccer administrator Chuck Blazers who pleaded guilty in the corruption case and Jack Warner’s son, former FIFA development officer Daryll Warner – from all football-related activities on Wednesday evening.
Apart from the US investigation, the Swiss authorities opened their own criminal proceedings that center-stage the 2018 and 2022 World Cup biddings. Russia and Qatar won those particular biddings and according to spokesman Walter De Gregorio, there won’t be any replays: “Russia and Qatar will be played.”
De Gregorio added that the current elections for the governing body’s presidency will be held on Friday as scheduled. Current president and heavy-favorite for yet another mandate, Sepp Blatter is not among the accused.
“He is calm and fully cooperative with everybody,” the spokesman added.
But that many not be enough as the European body UEFA wants to postpone the election and possibly eliminate Blatter from the equation.
“It would be absolutely wrong signal if under the impact of these developments the agenda of the FIFA Congress is processed as planned… Sepp Blatter – while not personally affected – should do football a big service,” German Football League (DFL) president Reinhard Rauball told Reuters.
“There can’t be a more corrupt, deplorable organization on earth than FIFA. The house of cards is falling. Time for change!” former England striker Gary Lineker tweeted.
Jordan’s Prince Ali bin Al Hussein is the only other candidate for presidency besides Blatter after Luis Figo and Michael van Praag withdrew from the race last week.
Can he change the status quo in today’s global game?