Fifa corruption: Congress opens as sponsor concerns grow

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Football’s governing body Fifa is due to open its annual congress despite warnings from sponsors that they may review ties over the arrest of senior officials on corruption charges.

Visa says it will reassess its sponsorship unless Fifa makes changes. Coca-Cola and Adidas voiced concern.

The European football body Uefa will decide whether to boycott Friday’s vote for the next Fifa president.

Seven top Fifa officials were arrested on corruption charges on Wednesday.

Fifa provisionally banned from football-related activity 11 of the 14 people charged by the US authorities on Wednesday.

They are accused of racketeering, fraud and money laundering, including charges of receiving bribes to influence the outcome of bids to stage football tournaments, such as the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and the 2016 Copa America in the US. South African’s main football body has denied the claim.

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Fifa said the election on Friday – in which incumbent president Sepp Blatter is seeking a fifth term – would go ahead.

‘Disastrous image’

Political leaders have started to weigh in on the developments:

  • UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond told the BBC there was “something deeply wrong at the heart of Fifa and international football needs to reform, needs to get its act together”
  • French Foreign Secretary Laurent Fabius said the charges were “giving a disastrous image” to Fifa and called for a delay to Friday’s vote to allow time for the investigation
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin said he supported a fifth term for Sepp Blatter as Fifa president and accused the US of trying to block his re-election

Mr Blatter, who has not been named in the investigations, said on Wednesday: “Such misconduct has no place in football and we will ensure that those who engage in it are put out of the game.”

He was due to make his first appearance since the arrests at Fifa’s annual congress in the Swiss city of Zurich on Thursday. However, he pulled out of a medical conference earlier in the day.

Swiss prosecutors plan to interview 10 Fifa executive committee members as part of a separate investigation into the bidding process for the World Cup tournaments in 2018 in Russia and 2022 in Qatar.

‘Highest standards’

Fifa’s key sponsors have come under increasing pressure to press Fifa over the mounting corruption allegations.

  • Credit card giant Visa said: “We expect Fifa to take swift and immediate steps to address these issues. Should FIFA fail to do so, we have informed them that we will reassess our sponsorship”
  • Coca-Cola said: “This lengthy controversy has tarnished the mission and ideals of the Fifa World Cup”
  • Adidas said it was “fully committed to creating a culture that promotes the highest standards of ethics and compliance, and we expect the same from our partners”
  • McDonald’s, a second-tier sponsor, said the latest developments were “extremely concerning” and it was closely monitoring the situation
  • Hyundai Motor told the BBC it was “extremely concerned about the legal proceedings… and will continue to monitor the situation closely”
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    Analysis: Matt Slater, BBC Sport

    It seemed, to this outsider at least, that US soccer needed a game-changer. It needed US Attorney General Loretta Lynch. But here is the thing. The game in America did not need the 56-year-old lawyer as much as the rest of the global game needed her, and for that football fans everywhere should salute her. This is truly America’s day.

    The Concacaf operation run by the disgraced Chuck Blazer and Jack Warner was not some rogue outpost of an otherwise spotless corporate giant: it was a case study of what – judging by the details of the US Department of Justice claims – has been allowed to happen around the globe, a symptom of a debilitating disease and quite frankly the most obvious place to start the round-up for US lawmen.

    The fact the Swiss seem to be cutting straight to the matter that most concerns football fans, where the next two World Cups will be played, is to be encouraged, but my money is still on the guys in FBI rain jackets bringing everything to a head first.

    Why corruption scandal is sport’s biggest ever

    Uefa reacted to the latest events by saying they were “a disaster for Fifa and tarnish the image of football as a whole”.

    The European body said Friday’s congress risked becoming a “farce” and that the vote should be postponed.

    ‘Year after year’

    Those indicted in the US case are accused of accepting bribes and kickbacks estimated at more than $150m (£97m) over a 24-year period beginning in 1991.

    Spelling out details of the US case, Attorney General Loretta Lynch said some Fifa executives had “used their positions to solicit bribes. They did this over and over, year after year, tournament after tournament”.

    The seven arrested in Zurich were vice-presidents Jeffrey Webb and Eugenio Figueredo; Eduardo Li, Julio Rocha, Costas Takkas, Rafael Esquivel and Jose Maria Marin. They face extradition requests from the US.

They were also subject to the new Fifa ban, along with Jack Warner, Nicolas Leoz, Chuck Blazer and Daryll Warner.

Jack Warner, a former Fifa vice-president, turned himself in to police in his home nation of Trinidad and Tobago late on Wednesday evening. Mr Warner is accused of soliciting $10m in bribes from South Africa’s government over the hosting of the 2010 World Cup.

Mr Warner, who spent the night in prison after delays in processing his $395,000 bail, says he is innocent of any charges.

Mr Leoz, 86, is in hospital suffering from flu, his lawyer Fernando Barriocanal said, adding that the Paraguayan was surprised by the charges and ready to defend himself.

Read more:http://www.bbc.com

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