Fifa vice-president Jim Boyce, from Northern Ireland, has urged football’s world governing body to conduct a full investigation into the “unprecedented and arbitrary payment” of $5m to the FAI, as a settlement after the infamous Thierry Henry handball incident in Paris in 2009.
Fifa last night confirmed “a €5m loan” had been agreed with the FAI and subsequently written off in 2014, claiming it was towards the “construction of a stadium”.
Their attempts to clarify the issue came in the wake of FAI chief executive John Delaney declaring it had secured “a very good and legitimate deal for the FAI”.
However, the arrangement sparked a mixture of mirth and fury last night, with outgoing Fifa vice-president Mr Boyce — no stranger to controversy himself — questioning the legitimacy of the deal and calling on Fifa’s new executive to prove the terms and conditions.
“How anyone can authorise a payment of €5m to stop legal proceedings is totally and utterly beyond me,” the veteran official told UTV.
Mr Boyce insisted any payoff is completely unprecedented: “I saw the game and there’s no doubt about it, it was a handball. But I’ve never known in my experience of football someone giving a payment like that for a referee’s mistake to stop someone taking legal action.”
Fifa said the deal was a “loan of €5m for the construction of a stadium in Ireland”.
Last night, it added: “At the same time, Uefa also granted the FAI funds for the same stadium. The terms agreed between Fifa and the FAI were that the loan would be reimbursed if Ireland qualified for the 2014 World Cup. Ireland did not qualify. Because of this, and in view of the FAI’s financial situation, Fifa decided to write off the loan as per December 31, 2014.”
The FAI went public on the deal last night, confirming a “legal settlement” after the threat of a case by the association in early 2010.
“The association has, until now, abided by the confidentiality agreement required by Fifa as part of the settlement. [It] was a legitimate payment that enabled the association to put €5m into the Aviva stadium project. This is fully reflected in our financial statements which are audited independently.
“The association accepted Fifa’s settlement offer to avoid a long, costly and protracted legal case. The offer given to the association was fully written off by Fifa in 2014.
“Fifa’s settlement with the association has at no time influenced the FAI’s criticism of Fifa as demonstrated by our consistent criticisms of Sepp Blatter. Furthermore, the settlement was made without any conditions other than confidentiality.”
Mr Delaney earlier told broadcaster Ray D’Arcy on RTÉ Radio 1: “We felt we had a legal case against Fifa because of how the World Cup hadn’t worked out for us with the Henry handball.
“Also, the way Blatter behaved when he had a snigger and a laugh at us, that day when I went into him and told him how I felt about him; there were some expletives used, we came to an agreement.
“You [D’Arcy] have used a figure there. It was a payment to the association not to proceed with a legal case.”
In the wake of the Republic’s 1-1 draw in Paris in a World Cup playoff in 2009, Mr Delaney’s appeal for Ireland to be made the “33rd team” at the finals was contemptuously slapped down by Mr Blatter.
Mr Delaney added: “In 2009, I called him an embarrassment to Fifa and to himself. He called me over about that, across the table with one or two expletives,” he said. “[Blatter] said: ‘No one speaks to me like that’, and I said, ‘well I do’ and that was that.
“He’s the best person at dividing and conquering that I have seen in my life. If people think Charlie Haughey was a good politician then they should have seen this guy in action. He was able to make Europe the big, bad wolf; that all the money was in Europe, all the best players were in Europe and we were robbing from the Africans and the Asians.”
The FAI CEO also recounted a bizarre encounter in Austria with Blatter who he said stared at his partner, Emma English.“
He stared at her and said ‘I approve of your new girlfriend’. I said ‘move on’ and he did,” said Mr Delaney.
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