While accepting the trust of world football has to be regained, FIFA President Sepp Blatter has responded to the arrest of top officials from the sport’s governing body by insisting it showed his efforts to eradicate corruption were working.
The deepest crisis in FIFA’s 111-year history is threatening Blatter’s bid to win a fifth, four-year term in a contest against Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan on Friday, with European football leaders trying to delay the election.
“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,” Blatter said on Wednesday.
“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.
“We will continue to work with the relevant authorities and we will work vigorously within FIFA … to regain your trust.”
Call for resignation
Blatter’s comments came as Greg Dyke, the chairman of the English Football Association, said Blatter should leave his job immediately in the wake of the arrests.
Dyke’s comments went further than European football’s governing body, UEFA, which called only for a six-month delay in Friday’s scheduled FIFA presidential vote.
Dyke said he was unconvinced by Blatter’s declaration that FIFA can regain the trust of football fans by stepping up efforts to root out corruption.
“Blatter has put out a statement saying now is the time to start rebuilding the trust in FIFA – there is no way of re-building trust in FIFA while Sepp Blatter is still there,” Dyke said early Thursday in Zurich.
“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 re-built while Blatter is there so UEFA has got to try to force him out.”
A Swiss criminal investigation into the bidding contest for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups was sparked by FIFA handing over a secret ethics investigation report to authorities in November.
Electronic data and documents were seized at FIFA’s headquarters early on Wednesday by investigators who said they will question 10 executive committee members who took part in the World Cup votes in December 2010.
The Swiss announcement came after 14 people were indicted in the US for football corruption – seven of whom were arrested by Zurich police after a raid at a luxury hotel.
The detained executives, including Vice Presidents Jeffrey Webb and Eugenio Figueredo, were in the Swiss city for the FIFA Congress.
Webb and Figueredo were among 11 people provisionally suspended from world football by FIFA.
Warner granted $2.5m bail
FIFA’s ethics committee, including former executive committee members Jack Warner, Nicolas Leoz and Chuck Blazer were suspended despite no longer being involved in the game.
The others are Costa Rican soccer federation president Eduardo Li, Venezuela FA chief Rafael Esquivel, former Brazilian FA chief Jose Maria Marin, Costas Takkas, who works for CONCACAF President Webb, FIFA development officer Julio Rocha and Warner’s son Daryll.
“FIFA executives and others corrupted the process, they did this over and over, year after year, tournament after tournament,” Loretta Lynch, US attorney general, announced at a news conference in New York on Wednesday.
US officials revealed that the 2010 World Cup, the first time Africa hosted the global event, was awarded to South Africa based on bribes received by some FIFA officials.
Warner was expected to spend Wednesday night in jail in Trinidad after surrendering when police issued an arrest warrant at the request of US authorities, who filed corruption charges against him.
Warner appeared in court, where a judge read 12 charges against him and then granted him $2.5m bail on certain conditions, including that he surrender his passport and report to police twice a week.
“These allegations have been there since time immemorial,” Warner said ahead of his arrest.
“I’m just saying it does seems strange that US could make these arrests two days before FIFA election. One has to be naive not to believe that has something to do with it.”
‘World Cup of fraud’
The effects of the FIFA arrests echoed globally, including in Canada, where the Canadian Soccer Association – the game’s governing body – said it was “disappointed by today’s developments” and welcomed the investigation.
Canada will host FIFA’s Women’s World Cup from June 6 until July 5.
“[We] are committed to protecting the integrity of the game and upholding the values of transparency and inclusiveness on which our country prides itself,” Canada Soccer said in a statement.
The arrests follow a three-year investigation, but the alleged crimes stretch back to the 1990s. The seven men facing extradition to the US face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
Richard Weber, who heads the US Internal Revenue Service criminal investigations unit, said: “This is really the World Cup of fraud and today we are issuing FIFA a red card.
“The fans shouldn’t have to worry about officials corrupting their sport.”
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies