Sepp Blatter Gets Standing Ovation As FIFA Goes For A Ride With Corruption Probe
FIFA witnessed a roller-coaster ride in just a week when the world football governing body was plunged into a corruption scandal, top officials were arrested, new investigations were launched, and Sepp Blatter was re-elected as president, only to stun everyone by saying he was quitting.
On Wednesday, Blatter’s staff gave him a standing ovation.
As ripples of the scandal reverberated from Europe to Africa to the Middle East, the embattled president showed up for work at FIFA’s gleaming headquarters in Zurich, where FIFA spokeswoman Delia Fischer said he met with staff and received their applause.
On May 27, Swiss police raided a luxury Zurich hotel on the eve of FIFA’s annual conference and arrested seven soccer officials. They were among 14 current and former sports and marketing officials indicted by U.S. authorities on bribery, vote-rigging and other corruption charges.
In a separate investigation, Swiss authorities seized documents at FIFA headquarters in their probe into the bidding contests for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments.
The 79-year-old Blatter has not been officially implicated so far in either investigation, and he won re-election to a fifth, four-year term Friday during the FIFA congress. But just four days later, he announced that he would resign and call for a new election to find a successor in a process that could take up to a year.
Here are some of the developments in the case around the world:
THE BLAZER CASE
Prosecutors unsealed a 40-page transcript of a 2013 hearing in federal court in New York in which former FIFA executive committee member Chuck Blazer said he and others on the panel agreed to receive bribes to vote for South Africa to host the 2010 World Cup.
Blazer pleaded guilty to racketeering and other charges at that hearing. He also said he arranged bribes around 1992 in the vote for which country would host the 1998 World Cup. France won the election over Morocco.
Blazer was the No. 2 official of soccer’s North and Central American and Caribbean region from 1990-2011 and served on FIFA’s executive committee from 1997-2013.
2010 WORLD CUP
In Johannesburg, South African officials said they made an “above-board payment” of $10 million to help soccer development in the Caribbean region but emphasized that it was not a bribe to secure the 2010 World Cup.
Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula said the government wanted to “categorically deny” paying any bribes to win the right to host the 2010 tournament. His remarks came before the Blazer transcript was released in New York.
The money is part of the U.S. investigation. FIFA sent it in three wire transfers in January-March 2008 to a fund controlled by former FIFA vice president Jack Warner of Trinidad and Tobago.
MOST WANTED LIST
Interpol added six men with ties to FIFA to its most-wanted list.
The international police force, based in Lyon, France, issued an alert for two former FIFA officials and four executives on charges including racketeering and corruption.
Two of the men, Warner and former executive committee member Nicolas Leoz of Paraguay, have been arrested in their home counties. Warner has since been released and Leoz is under house arrest. The Interpol “red notice” means they risk arrest anywhere they travel.
Warner and Leoz were among the 14 people indicted in the U.S. as part of the federal investigation.
RUSSIA AND QATAR
Russia and Qatar are the next two World Cup hosts, but those tournaments are coming under ever more scrutiny amid the corruption probes. Still, neither country seems worried that they could be stripped of the 2018 and 2022 events.
“We welcome the Office of the Swiss attorney general conducting its own work,” Qatar Football Association head Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa bin Ahmed al-Thani said in a statement.
In Russia, where President Vladimir Putin last week accused the U.S. meddling in soccer affairs, officials were equally confident. “Today I absolutely don’t see any kind of threats,” Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko told state TV.
THE NEXT PRESIDENT
The race to succeed Blatter has started, with former France soccer great Michel Plantini at the top of many lists.
Platini, the president of European governing body UEFA, has also been keeping a low profile since Blatter’s announcement, but he is expected to speak in the coming days in Berlin, where he will attend Saturday’s Champions League final.
Another possible replacement is Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein of Jordan, who lost to Blatter 133-73 in Friday’s election. According to the Jordanian Football Association, the prince is looking into whether he should be in line to replace Blatter without even holding another vote.
Under normal circumstances, African soccer president Issa Hayatou would be next in line if an interim president was needed.
Many more candidates are expected to come forward in the coming months.
Warner made a televised address in Trinidad on Wednesday night, saying he will prove a link between soccer’s governing body and his nation’s elections in 2010.
“I will no longer keep secrets for them who actively seek to destroy the country,” Warner said.
Warner also said in the address, which was a paid political advertisement, that “I reasonably actually fear for my life.” Still, a half-hour after the speech aired, Warner appeared at his Independent Liberal Party’s rally held under a canopy on a residential street. At least a couple hundred people were present when Warner spoke, many of them having not seen the televised remarks.
Warner said he has documents and checks that link FIFA officials, including embattled President Sepp Blatter, to the 2010 election in Trinidad and Tobago.
“I apologize for not disclosing my knowledge of these events before,” Warner said.