Wave of indictments in US renews soccer world’s doubt FIFA can beat its corruption issues
FIFA faced renewed doubt Friday over its ability to root out systemic corruption after a new wave of US indictments targeting top officials and a mixed response to much-hyped reforms.
World football suffered another dramatic day of negative headlines Thursday, with a further 16 officials charged over corruption in what the US justice department called an “outrageous” betrayal of trust by those who govern the world’s most beloved sport.
The fresh charges — including the pre-dawn arrests of two FIFA vice presidents at a luxury Zurich hotel — overshadowed the release of a reform plan that FIFA leadership hoped would change the narrative about its tarnished organisation.
The officials snatched at the plush Baur au Lac hotel — Juan Angel Napout, who heads the South American Football Confederation, and Alfredo Hawit, president of the Confederation of North, Central America and the Caribbean — were banned on Friday from football for 90 days by FIFA’s ethics committee.
An ethics committee statement listed the US racketeering, conspiracy and corruption charges as the cause of the suspension.
Given the extent of the rot within world football’s governing body, some outsiders reissued calls for outsiders to lead the clean-up, voicing doubt that FIFA was able to save itself.
“It’s not enough to make changes on paper. You simply have to change the individuals,” said Mark Pieth, a respected sports figure and legal expert who led a previous reform bid at FIFA.
– ‘No escape’ –
After guilty pleas from eight people, US Attorney General Loretta Lynch said there remained 27 defendants from within global football alleged to have taken more than $200 million (183 million euros) in bribes and kickbacks over decades.
Separate from the US charges, FIFA’s suspended president Sepp Blatter has become the target of a Swiss criminal investigation.
His would-be successor, UEFA boss Michel Platini, is implicated in the same probe and will appear later this month before a FIFA ethics court that could ban him from football for life, a fate which may also await Blatter.
Lynch, whose office is cooperating with Swiss prosecutors, said “the message should be clear to every culpable individual who remains in the shadows.
“You will not wait us out. You will not escape our focus.”
Despite the wave of indictments, acting FIFA president Issa Hayatou told journalists Thursday that the body “is not corrupt.
“There are just individuals who have demonstrated poor behaviour,” he added, echoing the standard line previously used by Blatter.
– ‘Too little too late?’ –
Several of the US suspects had been or are currently members of FIFA’s increasingly notorious executive committee, which includes the leaders of all regional confederations.
Crucial to the reforms announced Thursday was an overhaul of the executive panel.
If the changes are approved at a congress in February, the panel’s power will be reduced and its members removed from the day-to-day management of world football.
FIFA’s president and other senior leadership will face 12-year term limits and their compensation will be published and audited regularly.
But prominent sports marketing executive Patrick Nally, who has intimate knowledge of FIFA, said the reform package “is probably too little too late.”
With less than three months to go until the February meet where Blatter’s replacement will be chosen, Nally voiced doubt that FIFA was on track to pull itself out of crisis.
“I do not think a presidential election with the current candidates, and the acceptance of this package is enough,” he told AFP.
One of those candidates, France’s Jerome Champagne — who is a favourite among some calling for reform — expressed “satisfaction” with the measures announced Thursday.
The other four confirmed candidates include Prince Ali bin Al Hussein of Jordan, South African business tycoon Tokyo Sexwale, Asia’s football chief Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa and Gianni Infantino, Platini’s deputy at UEFA.