Fifa was plunged into the biggest meltdown in its scandal-hit history yesterday after a wave of arrests of football officials in Zurich on corruption charges, but what does it all mean?
Q: What do we know about the investigations into Fifa?
There are two separate proceedings. In Switzerland, where Fifa is based, authorities have opened criminal investigations into the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. A statement from the Office of the Swiss Attorney General said there is “suspicion of criminal mismanagement and of money laundering” that led to Russia and Qatar winning the votes to host the respective tournaments. Meanwhile, in the US, there is another criminal investigation into Fifa matters, led by the US Attorney’s Office for the District of New York. In a damning statement yesterday, the Department of Justice confirmed that nine Fifa officials and five ‘corporate executives’ had been charged with a multitude of offences, including money laundering and wire fraud.
Seven of those men were arrested in Zurich yesterday as part of the morning raid. The charges relate to alleged bribes and kickbacks paid by marketing executives to football officials regarding the media rights to a host of tournaments staged across North, South and Central America.
Q: Did Fifa know anything about this?
Yes, and this is an important point. The Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland has confirmed that Fifa filed criminal charges with them against ‘persons unknown’ on November 18 last year. As a result, Fifa have been deemed the ‘injured party’ regarding the Swiss investigation. Football’s governing body revealed yesterday that they brought a file to the relevant authorities which pertained to the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
While Fifa would’ve known there would be consequences to having handed over such information, it’s unclear if they had any knowledge of the other, separate investigation in the US.
Q: Will Fifa vote again on the 2018 and 2022 World Cups?
When addressing a crowd of international journalists yesterday, Fifa spokesman Walter de Gregario initially stated that both tournaments would go ahead as planned in Russia and Qatar. Later, however, he back-tracked, offering a more non-committal response: “Russia and Qatar will be played, this is fact today. I can’t go into speculation about what will happen tomorrow.”
In the immediate aftermath of yesterday’s events, general secretary of the Russian Football Union, Anatoly Vorobyov, claimed the arrests would have no impact on his country hosting the 2018 tournament. He’s correct, because they don’t relate to the World Cups.
However, the investigation undertaken by the Swiss authorities does. Ten people who took part in the voting process will be questioned and it may be proven that one or indeed both of the bids only proved successful because of corrupt means. If that happens, Fifa will have to take the relevant action.
Q: Sepp Blatter wasn’t arrested but were any high-profile Fifa members charged?
Jeffrey Webb is a Fifa vice-president and current head of Concacaf — the confederation overseeing football in the North and Central Americas and, ironically, also leads Fifa’s Internal Audit Committee. Over the last two years, he’s enjoyed a meteoric rise within the inner circle and many have tipped him to be a genuine candidate to replace Blatter. Concacaf carries a stained reputation, owing to the behaviour of Webb’s predecessor, Jack Warner, another of the individuals indicted by US authorities yesterday. In 2011, he was suspended by Fifa after being found guilty of offering bribes to members of the Caribbean Football Union in exchange for their support of then-presidential candidate Mohamed bin Hammam. Warner resigned from all his football-related posts and internal investigations into his affairs were dropped.
Q: What does this mean for Blatter?
Not much. His name was referenced countless times at the hastily-arranged press conference in Zurich yesterday and it’s inevitable that many will call for him to resign.
However, that makes little sense. Firstly, the arrested Fifa members haven’t been found guilty of anything yet, while Blatter himself isn’t implicated in either investigation. He’s been here before — Fifa members embarrassing the organisation with their corruption scandals — and he’s always survived. The presidential election will go ahead as planned and Blatter will tell his comrades that Fifa are responsible for the authorities getting involved, in that Fifa – on his watch — approached the authorities with key information. In effect, that it’s all part of his plan to reform and move on from the crises of the past. And he’ll be re-elected.
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