If there were any doubts that the beautiful game was altogether blighted, the stunning arrest of senior FIFA officials in Zurich this morning should put an end to such optimism.
In a dawn raid at the Swiss city’s Baur au Lac hotel, several executives were arrested for “widespread corruption in FIFA over the past two decades, involving bids for World Cups as well as marketing and broadcast deals,” the New York Times reported, quoting anonymous sources. “It seems like this corruption was institutionalized,” one law enforcement official said.
Next, these officials are to be extradited to the US, where they face federal charges of wire fraud and money laundering brought by newly-appointed Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch.
The arrests were made by the Zurich Cantonal Police after a request from US authorities investigating crimes that “were agreed and prepared in the US, and payments were carried out via US banks,” the Federal Office of Justice in Zurich said in a statement. “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 statement added.
The FIFA officials charged include:
- Jeffrey Webb: Current FIFA vice president and executive committee member and the president of the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF), consisting of 41 member-associations including the US, Mexico and Canada
- Eugenio Figueredo: Current FIFA vice president and executive committee member. Former president of CONMEBOL, the South American football association, and a former president of the Uruguayan Football Association
- Jack Warner: Former FIFA vice president and executive committee member, CONCACAF president, Caribbean Football Union (CFU) president and Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (TTFF) special adviser. Resigned from all positions in international football after a bribery scandal in 2011
- Eduardo Li: Current FIFA executive committee member-elect, CONCACAF executive committee member and Costa Rican soccer federation (FEDEFUT) president
- Julio Rocha: Current FIFA development officer. Former Central American Football Union (UNCAF) president and Nicaraguan soccer federation (FENIFUT) president
- Costas Takkas: Current attaché to the CONCACAF president and former general secretary of Cayman Islands Football Association
- Rafael Esquivel: Current CONMEBOL executive committee member and Venezuelan soccer federation (FVF) president
- José Maria Marin: Current member of the FIFA organizing committee for the Olympic football tournaments, and former president of the Brazilian Football Confederation
- Nicolás Leoz: Former member of FIFA’s executive committee and former president of CONMEBOL who quit in 2013 amid allegations of corruption
Charges against other sports marketing executives are also expected.
The arrests come a day before the brass of the 209 member-associations that constitute FIFA—football’s global governing organization, with an annual revenue of $2 billion last year—met in Zurich for its annual meetings. On the agenda was the election of FIFA’s president, a position held by Sepp Blatter since 1998. And despite his controversial leadership—including allegations of corruption, mismanagement, and highhandedness—the 79-year-old was expected to win a fifth term in office.
Blatter “is not involved at all,” a FIFA spokesperson told the Associated Press.
These arrests not only show the extent of the rot within FIFA—even as the organization defends awarding Russia and Qatar the right to host the World Cup in 2018 and 2022, respectively—but will also put Blatter’s likely reelection under a cloud.
FIFA is due to hold a press conference at 11am Zurich time, which will be live-streamed at FIFA.com.