Soccer’s world governing body has no plans to reconsider its decision to award the next two World Cup tournaments to Russia and Qatar in the wake of U.S. and Swiss probes into high-level corruption including the bidding process, FIFA’s spokesman said Wednesday.
While FIFA is standing firm behind the selections of Russia for 2018 and Qatar four years later, the Swiss indictments specifically target alleged wrongdoing in picking the host countries and are certain to bring increased pressure over the decisions.
Some critics have complained about Russia as a venue over its annexation of Crimea last year and its suspected support for pro-Moscow rebels in Ukraine. In Qatar, the working conditions for mostly South Asian laborers constructing World Cup sites has some under scrutiny from rights groups and others.
At a news conference in Zurich, FIFA spokesman Walter de Gregorio insisted that FIFA was not only fully cooperating, but had initiated the investigation last year. “FIFA welcomes this,” he said.
“This for FIFA is good. It’s not good in terms of image or in terms of reputation, but in terms of cleaning up what’s happened in the past few years . . . This is good,” he said of the investigation. “It hurts, but we are on the right track. It’s the only way to go.”
Seven soccer officials have been arrested relating to a U.S. corruption probe. A separate probe by Swiss federal prosecutors includes alleged misdeeds such as bribery and kickbacks stretching back to the 1990s, including the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups in December 2010.
Longtime FIFA President Sepp Blatter, who is seeking re-election on Friday, was not among those directly implicated by the investigations.
“The bribery suspects — representatives of sports media and sports promotion firms — are alleged to have been involved in schemes to make payments to the soccer functionaries [FIFA delegates] and other functionaries of FIFA sub-organizations — totaling more than $100 million,” the Swiss prosector’s statement said, according to the Associated Press. “In return, it is believed that they received media, marketing, and sponsorship rights in connection with soccer tournaments in Latin America.”
De Gregorio acknowledged it was a dark day for soccer fans around the globe. “The damaged party is all of us,” he said. “Football fans for sure.”
Despite the arrest of seven FIFA officials at a hotel in Zurich, De Gregorio described Blatter as “focused” and “calm.”
“He is not dancing in his office — this kind of relaxment. He is just calm. He sees what happens. He is fully cooperative with everybody. That’s what I meant. He is not a happy man today but he knows this is the consequence of what we initiated [by approaching authorities in November].”
De Gregorio added that FIFA would not automatically suspend those officials arrested on Wednesday and that they could even be allowed to vote on Friday if released by Swiss authorities. “They were arrested but they have not been convicted yet,” he said. “There is a presumption of innocence. You need a legal procedure.”