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World Reacts to FIFA Indictments

  • VOA News

The logo of soccer's international governing body FIFA is seen on its headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland, May 27, 2015.

The logo of soccer's international governing body FIFA is seen on its headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland, May 27, 2015.

Leading figures from the international football world voiced dismay Wednesday over the latest scandal to engulf FIFA, soccer's powerful governing body.

Russia accused the United States of illegally applying its legal force "far beyond its borders" following the U.S. indictment against FIFA officials.

The awarding of the 2018 World Cup to Russia forms part of one of the two corruption investigations launched on Wednesday.

WATCH: Related video on U.S., Swiss investigations of FIFA

"Without going into the details of the accusations. ... This is clearly another case of illegal exterritorial use of U.S. law," said a statement on the website of the Russian foreign ministry. "We hope that this will not in any way be used to cast a shadow on the international football organisation as a whole and its decisions.

"Once again we are calling on Washington to stop attempts to make justice far beyond its borders using its legal norms and to follow the generally accepted international legal procedures," it said.

Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko, who sits on the FIFA executive committee, said it acted completely within the law when it won the right to host the 2018 World Cup. "We've got nothing to hide. ... We're prepared to show everything," he said.

Qatar has strongly denied any wrongdoing linked to its bid.

The United States Soccer Federation released a statement saying it “believes there is no higher priority, and nothing more important, than protecting the integrity of our game. We are committed to the highest ethical standards and business practices, and we will continue to encourage CONCACAF and FIFA to promote the same values. Out of respect for the ongoing investigation, we will not speculate or comment further on this matter at this time.”

South American reactions

South American soccer officials' reactions to the arrests of seven senior FIFA officials in Zurich were varied.

The Brazilian soccer federation said it "fully supports any type of investigation" into corruption in soccer and "reaffirms its commitment to the truth and transparency."

Former Brazilian star Romario, now a federal senator, called Brazilian soccer official Jose Maria Marin "one of the biggest thieves" in sports in the country.

Marin, the former president of the Brazilian Football Confederation, was among seven high-ranking soccer officials arrested Wednesday.

Romario, a former FIFA world player of the year, has been an outspoken critic of FIFA and of top officials in Brazilian football. He said Wednesday, "Unfortunately, it wasn't our police that arrested them, but someone had to eventually arrest them one day."

Brazil soccer president Marco Polo Del Nero blamed disgraced former FIFA executive committee member Ricardo Teixeira for the marketing contracts identified as corrupt in a U.S. indictment.

'Terrible' for nation's soccer

Del Nero, who succeeded Teixeira as Brazil's delegate on the FIFA executive committee in 2012, called Wednesday's events "terrible" for the nation's soccer.

Argentine football great Diego Maradona applauded the arrest of top FIFA officials in an anti-corruption sting, and warned that Sepp Blatter, the president of world football's governing body, may be next.

"Watch out, Blatter may have to go the United States to explain himself. They've been after him for 10 years," Maradona told Buenos Aires radio station La Red.

The Costa Rica Attorney General's office said Wednesday it has opened an investigation into Costa Rican FIFA executive Eduardo Li, who has been implicated by the FBI. Investigators are studying properties, bank accounts and other assets linked to Li.

The Uruguay soccer federation would not comment on the arrest of FIFA vice president Eugenio Figueredo.

But a Venezuelan soccer official, Jairo Ramirez, told The Associated Press that he has full faith in the innocence of arrested FIFA official Rafael Esquivel.

In Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, Jack Warner, a former FIFA vice president who was among the 14 named in the U.S. indictment, said later Wednesday he is innocent of any charges.

Warner, 72, said in a statement: "I have been afforded no due process and I have not even been questioned in this matter. I reiterate that I am innocent of any charges. I have walked away from the politics of world football."

'I sleep very soundly at night'

Speaking on TV6 in his native Trinidad and Tobago, he said: "If the U.S. Justice Department wants me, they know where to find me. I sleep very soundly in the night."

Two of Warner's sons have already waived indictment and pleaded guilty to a variety of charges against them, including wire fraud and the structuring of financial transactions.

In Europe, Wolfgang Niersbach, president of the German football federation (DFB), told reporters: “It is shocking and damaging for the (whole of) football what is going on in Zurich. It would be shocking if these serious allegations against FIFA members are correct.”

Niersbach is set to become a representative of the European confederation (UEFA) on the FIFA Executive Committee on Friday.

In Berlin, Germany's Justice Minister Heiko Maas told Reuters, "It is clear that FIFA is not above the law either and that the accusations must be investigated. I think every soccer fan has a right to know that corruption in soccer and in international soccer has no room."

Sylvia Schenk, a former Olympic athlete and a senior adviser on sports for the anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International, told Reuters, "One could certainly say that FIFA is in crisis, which of course also affects its president. His [Blatter’s] credibility was already on the floor. It surely did not increase but it couldn't get any worse either."

Chickens 'home to roost'

Damian Collins, a British member of parliament who founded the reform group New FIFA Now, said the arrests could have a massive impact on the governing body.

“The chickens are finally coming home to roost and this sounds like a hugely significant development for FIFA,” he told Reuters. “It proves that Sepp Blatter's promises over the last few years to look into corruption at FIFA have not materialized and because he has totally failed to do this, it has been left to an outside law enforcement agency to do the job and take action.”

The arrests could also have implications for sponsorship.

German sportswear company Adidas, long associated with FIFA and the first of FIFA's sponsors to respond to the news, said the soccer body should do more to establish transparent compliance standards.

In a statement, Adidas said: “We can ... only encourage FIFA to continue to establish and follow transparent compliance standards in everything they do.”

Included in the U.S. indictment were charges regarding the selection of South Africa to host the 2010 World Cup.

The South African Football Association said the corruption charges have nothing to do with the actual event.

“These corruption and racketeering charges have got nothing to do with the actual 2010 World Cup. At the moment, the details are sketchy, but the charges mainly pertain to the service providers and broadcasting rights,” SAFA Communications Manager Dominic Chimhavi said.

Players, managers of the game

Former England striker Gary Lineker, leading scorer at the 1986 World Cup and long a critic of Blatter, was busy on Twitter, posting: “This is extraordinary! FIFA is imploding. The best thing that could possibly happen to the beautiful game.”

Earlier he tweeted: “There can't be a more corrupt, deplorable organization on earth than FIFA. The house of cards is falling. Time for change!” and “If Blatter had even a crumb of dignity remaining, he'd walk away now.”

David Ginola, the former French international who briefly planned to stand against Blatter before withdrawing, was “not surprised” by the day's events.

A combination of file pictures made on May 27, 2015 shows Fifa officials (LtoR, from upper row) Rafael Esquivel, Nicolas Leoz, Jeffrey Webb, Jack Warner, Eduardo Li, Eugenio Figueredo and Jose Maria Marin

A combination of file pictures made on May 27, 2015 shows Fifa officials (LtoR, from upper row) Rafael Esquivel, Nicolas Leoz, Jeffrey Webb, Jack Warner, Eduardo Li, Eugenio Figueredo and Jose Maria Marin

He told Sky Sports News: “There have been allegations for months and years towards FIFA. We need to know why they decided to give the World Cup to Qatar for example. ... I guess this morning is the start of something big."

But Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger warned: “Sometimes we are too quick to convict people who have not been proven guilty so you have to be very cautious on that.

“I'd prefer the whole inquiry is done well and that the rumors disappear. There's nothing worse than rumors," Wenger said.

Presidential election

Before Wednesday, FIFA President Blatter was outright favorite to win a fifth term. The arrests and inquiries announced Wednesday could change the voting figures however.

The FIFA president was not included in Wednesday's indictment, but he is a divisive figure in the international football world.

Dominican Republic FA president Osiris Guzman last month compared Blatter to Jesus, Winston Churchill, Moses, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King as the Central and North American confederation (CONCACAF) pledged support to his campaign.

Asia and Africa have also declared strong public support for Blatter against his challenger Prince Ali bin al Hussein, brother of Jordan's monarch.

But Europe has turned against him. UEFA leader Michel Platini says Blatter lied when he told UEFA in 2011 that if elected then it would be his last term.

Many people in the soccer community called on FIFA to postpone its its presidential election set for Friday, but the body said it will go ahead with the vote.

Prince Ali -- the only challenger facing Blatter, 79, who is seeking his fifth term -- said the arrests Wednesday were "a sad day for football" and show that the world soccer body needs new leadership.

Prince Ali said, "We cannot continue with the crisis in FIFA. ... FIFA needs leadership that governs, guides and protects our national associations. ... Leadership that restores confidence in the hundreds of millions of football fans around the world."

FILE - Fifa President Sepp Blatter waits for the beginning of the World Cup semifinal soccer match between Brazil and Germany at the Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, July 8, 2014.

FILE - Fifa President Sepp Blatter waits for the beginning of the World Cup semifinal soccer match between Brazil and Germany at the Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, July 8, 2014.

Blatter released a statement Wednesday, saying: "This is a difficult time for football, the fans and for FIFA as an organization. We understand the disappointment that many have expressed and I know that the events of today will impact the way in which many people view us.

"As unfortunate as these events are, it should be clear that we welcome the actions and the investigations by the U.S. and Swiss authorities and believe that it will help to reinforce measures that FIFA has already taken to root out any wrongdoing in football," the statement said.

'Completely depressed'

Swedish FA chairman Karl-Erik Nilsson said Blatter had to take some responsibility for FIFA “scoring own goal after own goal. ... One gets completely depressed when FIFA is being chipped away at again. I think Blatter should draw his own conclusions about everything that has happened during his time as chairman."

What I can say for certain is that we will not be voting for Blatter," Nilsson said.

French Federation president Noel Le Graet said, “It's a shame that officials (by their actions) can cast doubt on organizations like FIFA, which is so important to world football.”

The English FA, which has been disenchanted with FIFA ever since faring so badly in the vote to stage the 2018 World Cup, indicated it would also be voting for Prince Ali Friday.

English Football Association Chairman Greg Dyke said Wednesday's developments were “very serious for FIFA and its current leadership.” England had nominated Prince Ali as a candidate to succeed Blatter and would be backing him if the FIFA leadership vote goes ahead.

Dyke was backed up by the Scottish Football Association, whose chief executive Stewart Regan called for Blatter to stand down.
“What has happened today underlines the need for fundamental change in how FIFA is governed,” he said in a statement.

The European soccer body UEFA has called for FIFA to postpone its presidential vote, scheduled for Friday, and said it may boycott this week's annual FIFA Congress.

UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino said corruption investigations into FIFA "tarnish the image of football as a whole." He said European football associations will debate Thursday whether to boycott the Zurich congress.

Material for this report came from AFP, Reuters and AP.

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