More FIFA flap: World Cup bidding halted

Global Business

European Soccer Federation UEFA President Michel Platini, center, and UEFA EURO 2016 SAS chairman Jacques Lambert, right, present a facsimile of an Euro 2016 ticket to French President Francois Hollande during a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, Wednesday, June 10, 2015, a year before the start of Euro 2016. UEFA President Michel Platini met with French President Francois Hollande on Wednesday amid speculation that he will run for the FIFA presidency when Sepp Blatter follows through with his resignation. (Yoan Valat/Pool Photo via AP)

On another day of turmoil for FIFA and the World Cup, the bidding contest for the 2026 tournament was put on hold. FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke said Wednesday it would be “nonsense” to begin the next bidding process on schedule this week amid the American investigation into soccer corruption.

Valcke, speaking at a news conference in Russia hosted by organizers of the 2018 tournament, also defended his role in a $10 million bribery scandal linked to the 2010 World Cup.

“I will answer all the questions. I have nothing to hide,” Valcke said.

The storm unleashed by separate U.S. and Swiss federal investigations has already further sullied FIFA’s image and led to the resignation of its president, Sepp Blatter.

The favorite to succeed Blatter, former protege turned adversary Michel Platini, criticized soccer’s governing body later Wednesday while also welcoming a delay in 2026 business.

“Today there is no leadership at FIFA so it’s normal that it’s been suspended,” the UEFA president and former France great said at a news conference in Paris.

The United States is among the expected contenders in the May 2017 vote.

FIFA also said Wednesday its executive committee will meet to choose an election date in a special session next month — possibly July 24 in St. Petersburg, where Swiss and American investigators won’t get the chance to ask questions. The 209 FIFA member federations will vote for a new president four months after a deadline set for would-be candidates to apply.

Blatter’s prolonged departure is “not doing himself and the whole of football a favor,” said Wolfgang Niersbach of Germany, who is on the executive committee.

FIFA has been in crisis since the U.S. Department of Justice indicted 14 people on corruption charges ahead of Blatter’s re-election at the FIFA congress two weeks ago. Seven of them were arrested in Zurich and face extradition.

One of the seven has appealed for bail, but Swiss authorities did not identify which one. The Federal Criminal Court will rule on whether he will remain in custody, authorities said Wednesday in a statement.

Although Blatter was not named in a 164-page indictment — which alleged $150 million in bribes linked mostly to non-FIFA tournaments in North and South America — officials familiar with the case have said he is a target.

Valcke, however, has been scrutinized for his direct links to payments totaling $10 million from FIFA accounts which the U.S. Department of Justice says were bribes to FIFA executive committee members to vote for South Africa as 2010 World Cup host.

In an impassioned voice Wednesday, Valcke repeated previous FIFA statements on his behalf: That he merely signed off on money transfers agreed to by South African officials from their World Cup funds, and authorized by the then-chairman of the FIFA finance panel, Julio Grondona of Argentina, who died last year.

“I’m signing all the contracts of FIFA,” said Valcke, who began his job several months before the money transfers in early 2008 to accounts controlled by disgraced former FIFA vice president Jack Warner.

Valcke insisted that the alleged bribe money did not belong to FIFA and questioned why he was targeted by international media.

“You have decided that after Blatter, my head is to be cut. Fine,” said the former television journalist from France. “But don’t say it is because of this $10 million.”

Valcke and Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko, who is also a FIFA executive committee member, repeated that the 2018 hosting victory was won clean.

The Swiss attorney general’s office is using a report by former FIFA ethics prosecutor Michael Garcia. His investigation team was denied key evidence because Russian bid officials did not provide an archive of emails, and also used computers which were leased and later destroyed.

Both Russia and Qatar, which was awarded the 2022 World Cup, risk losing their hosting rights if evidence of wrongdoing emerges.

Story by the Associated Press


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