UEFA called on Wednesday for the forthcoming FIFA presidential election to be postponed following revelations that Swiss prosecutors had launched criminal corruption probes into the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids. According to AP, European football's powerful governing body has threatened to boycott this week’s FIFA congress should the election proceed.
UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino said the corruption investigations into FIFA "tarnish the image of football as a whole" and said European football associations will debate on Thursday whether to boycott the Zurich congress. Infantino added the executive committee of European soccer's ruling body, which met Wednesday, wants "a change to the leadership" of FIFA, with the congress to be postponed and new elections held within six months.
Earlier on Wednesday, nine FIFA officials and five executives were indicted on charges of racketeering, conspiracy and corruption in the United States, with the Department of Justice seeking to extradite the accused to stand trial in the US. Seven FIFA officials were arrested at a dawn raid on a Swiss hotel. Sepp Blatter was not held, however his Vice President, Jeffrey Webb, was taken into custody.
On Wednesday afternoon, Blatter released a statement taking credit for the investigation that led to the indictments of FIFA officials. The statement read:
This is a difficult time for football, the fans and for FIFA as an organisation. We understand the disappointment that many have expressed and I know that the events of today will impact the way in which many people view us.
As unfortunate as these events are, it should be clear that we welcome the actions and the investigations by the US and Swiss authorities and believe that it will help to reinforce measures that FIFA has already taken to root out any wrongdoing in football.
While there will be many who are frustrated with the pace of change, I would like to stress the actions that we have taken and will continue to take. In fact, today’s action by the Swiss Office of the Attorney General was set in motion when we submitted a dossier to the Swiss authorities late last year.
Let me be clear: such misconduct has no place in football and we will ensure that those who engage in it are put out of the game. Following the events of today, the independent Ethics Committee – which is in the midst of its own proceedings regarding the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cups -- took swift action to provisionally ban those individuals named by the authorities from any football-related activities at the national and international level. These actions are on top of similar steps that FIFA has taken over the past year to exclude any members who violate our own Code of Ethics.
We will continue to work with the relevant authorities and we will work vigorously within FIFA in order to root out any misconduct, to regain your trust and ensure that football worldwide is free from wrongdoing.
Football Association chairman Greg Dyke responded to the statement by insisting Blatter “has to go." He said: "Blatter has put out a statement saying now is the time to start rebuilding the trust in FIFA. There is no way of rebuilding trust in Fifa while Sepp Blatter is still there. Sepp Blatter has to go. He either has to go through a resignation, or he has to be out-voted or we have to find a third way. I think the time has come where the damage this has done to FIFA is so great that it can't be rebuilt while Blatter is there so Uefa has got to try to force him out."
In a dramatic press conference in New York on Wednesday morning, US prosecutors detailed the allegations facing FIFA officials, saying: "This really is a World Cup of fraud and today we are issuing FIFA a red card."
Attorney General Loretta Lynch added: "It spans at least two generations of soccer officials who, as alleged, have abused their positions of trust to acquire millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks. And it has profoundly harmed a multitude of victims, from the youth leagues and developing countries that should benefit from the revenue generated by the commercial rights these organisations hold, to the fans at home and throughout the world whose support for the game makes those rights valuable."
She continued: "Today's action makes clear that this Department of Justice intends to end any such corrupt practices, to root out misconduct, and to bring wrongdoers to justice -- and we look forward to continuing to work with other countries in this effort."
A statement from the Swiss Federal Office of Justice read: "The six soccer functionaries were arrested today in Zurich by the Zurich Cantonal Police. The FOJ's arrest warrants were issued further to a request by the US authorities. The US Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York is investigating these individuals on suspicion of the acceptance of bribes and kick-backs between the early 1990s and the present day."
The Swiss prosecutors' office said the US probe was separate from its investigation but that authorities were working together.
The votes to award the World Cups to Russia and Qatar have been surrounded in controversy and accusations of corruption. Qatar, a tiny Gulf nation with little soccer tradition, was criticised from the start for its extreme summer heat. FIFA has since been forced to move the tournament to November-December instead of the usual June-July time slot.
FIFA also hired US attorney Michael Garcia to investigate the 2018 and 2022 bid process. His findings were never fully released and both Russia and Qatar were confirmed as hosts. Garcia's full report was turned over to Swiss authorities in November, prompting Wednesday's raid on FIFA headquarters.
Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko, who is also a FIFA executive committee member, told The Associated Press "we've got nothing to hide." In a phone interview, Mutko said: "We're prepared to show everything. We've always acted within the law."
Qatari soccer officials declined to comment to AP.
The US case involves bribes "totaling more than $100 million" linked to commercial deals dating back to the 1990s for soccer tournaments in the United States and Latin America, the Swiss Federal Office of Justice said. The Justice Department said the corruption is linked to World Cup qualifying matches and the Copa America -- South America's continental championship.
US prosecutors in New York said they had uncovered a dozen different schemes during its investigation, and some involved the awarding of the 2010 World Cup. South Africa, with the backing of Nelson Mandela, beat rival bids from Morocco and Egypt to host the tournament in 2010, four years after narrowly losing out to Germany for the previous tournament.
Dozens of soccer officials are in Switzerland for the FIFA Congress and presidential election, where Blatter is widely expected to win re-election at the helm of the governing body of world soccer. Blatter had been scheduled to attend a meeting of the Confederation of African Football in a different downtown Zurich hotel, but he canceled his appearance. He later canceled his plans to attend a meeting of the South American confederation.
Blatter's only opponent in Friday's presidential election, Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan, seized on the situation to push his candidacy. "We cannot continue with the crisis in FIFA, a crisis that has been ongoing and is not just relevant to the events of today," Prince Ali said in a statement. "FIFA's needs leadership that governs, guides and protects our national associations... Leadership that restores confidence in the hundreds of millions of football fans around the world."
The arrests were made at the lakeside Baur au Lac Hotel in downtown Zurich, long favored as a place for senior FIFA officials to stay. It was the stage for intense lobbying for votes ahead of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosting decisions. In Florida, a small group of agents from the FBI and IRS executed search warrants at CONCACAF headquarters in Miami Beach. Neither agency offered comment on the investigation.
The North American regional body, known as CONCACAF, reported itself to US tax authorities in 2012. Then based in New York, the organisation had not paid taxes over several years when its president was Warner and secretary general was Chuck Blazer of the United States.
Warner left soccer in 2011 to avoid FIFA sanctions in a bribery scandal during that year's presidential election. Blazer left in 2013 and has pleaded guilty to charges, the Justice Department said in Wednesday's statement. Warner's successor as CONCACAF leader and FIFA vice president is Webb, who was staying at the Baur au Lac this week.
The Swiss Federal Office of Justice said in its statement that US authorities suspect the arrested officials of having received or paid bribes totaling millions of dollars and that the crimes were agreed to and prepared in the US, and payments carried out via US banks.
Here are some of the reasons why FIFA is a terrible organisation: