It is a sad reflection on the state of soccer’s governing body that the revelations of deep-seated corruption within Fifa’s ranks weren’t the most surprising development of this week’s events in Zurich. Official accusations of bribery, amounting to US$150 million over 24 years, and the arrests of 14 men by Swiss police, were to many simply confirmation of what has long been suspected and rumoured.
Instead, the biggest surprise was that arrests took place at all. Amid the innuendo that has surrounded such matters, there has always been a feeling of impotence; a sense that if this kind of thing was taking place, then the people responsible were too powerful, and too clever, to be touched. This feeling was only intensified when the Garcia Report, a long-awaited investigation into corruption in soccer, was only partially released by Fifa’s ethics committee late last year.
As it turned out, the FBI had been conducting a long-standing investigation of its own, waiting for the right moment to strike. That moment was the morning of 27th May 2015, when Fifa’s high-level executives were gathered together in Zurich for the body’s 65th annual congress. Switzerland’s extradition treaty with the US made things easier. Seven men were arrested in the initial dawn raids, with a further seven arrests taking place later in the morning. Two days ahead of its planned presidential election, where incumbent Sepp Blatter was expected to win a fifth term, Fifa was plunged into chaos.
Where Fifa goes from here will depend on the results of Friday’s vote, cast by each of the body’s 209 national associations. Michel Platini, president of Uefa, has said he believes this week’s events could lead to Blatter losing the election, something that was almost unthinkable as recently as Tuesday evening.
Uefa has threatened to boycott the 2018 World Cup if Blatter remains in charge and perhaps more threateningly to Fifa, several of its key sponsors have indicated that they would consider their positions if steps were not taken to ensure the federation was acting in an ethical manner.
Whatever happens on Friday, one thing is clear: Fifa is in chaos.
'Fifa's darkest week'
06:00 – Seven Fifa officials arrested at the hotel Baur du Lac in Zurich by plain-clothes Swiss police officers, on the eve of the 65th Fifa congress.
07:50 – List of 14 names emerges – nine Fifa executives, among them current Concacaf president and Fifa vice-president Jeffrey Webb, and five marketing executives – all charged with criminal activity in the US.
10:00 – Swiss authorities announce separate investigation of ten Fifa executives in relation to the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar respectively. Police enter Fifa’s headquarters in Zurich.
10:20 – Fifa’s director of communications, Walter de Gregorio (left), holds press conference stating that the presidential election due on Friday will go ahead and says that Fifa president Sepp Blatter is relaxed about the proceedings.
12:00 – Fifa issues statement claiming to welcome the move, stating that it will “help to reinforce measures Fifa has already taken.”
14:00 – Adidas becomes first major sponsor of Fifa to issue a statement, claiming that it “promotes the highest standards of ethics and compliance, and we expect the same from our partners.”
14:30 – Prince Ali bin Al-Hussein, Sepp Blatter’s only rival in Friday’s presidential election, tweets that “Fifa needs leadership that governs, guides and protects our national associations.”
17:00 – Visa, one of Fifa’s key commercial partners, releases strongest condemnation from a sponsor so far, and becomes the first to threaten to remove its support if progress is not made. Coca-Cola also releases a statement claiming it has “repeatedly expressed our concerns about these serious allegations.”
19:00 – Blatter releases statement saying that Fifa will “work vigorously…to root out any misconduct, to regain your trust and ensure that football worldwide is free from wrongdoing.”
09:00 – Blatter faces calls from all quarters to step down, including from the chairman of the English FA, Greg Dyke. Uefa expresses desire for the elections to be postponed for at least six months.
10:00 – Further statements from sponsors including Hyundai and McDonalds emerge expressing concern, though both stop short of threatening to back out of deals.
10:30 – Russian president Vladimir Putin accuses the US of meddling outside its jurisdiction with the arrests in Switzerland. “Unfortunately, our American partners use such methods to achieve their selfish aims and illegally persecute people,” Putin said. “I do not rule out that in the case of Fifa, it’s exactly the same.”
12:00 – British prime minister David Cameron joins the calls for Blatter’s resignation, with his spokesman releasing a statement claiming that the British government is “squarely behind the FA” in supporting the presidential bid of Prince Ali.
14:00 – President of Uefa, Michel Platini, holds a press conference calling for Blatter to resign, though says Uefa will not boycott the elections, instead urging members to vote for Prince Ali.
16:00 – Sepp Blatter gives a speech at the Congress’ opening ceremony in which he says Fifa must earn back the trust of the soccer world and that there can “be no place for corruption of any kind.” Blatter denies responsibility, claiming that he “cannot monitor everyone all of the time” and blames the crisis on “a minority.” He adds: “The next few months will not be easy for Fifa. I am sure more bad news may follow but it is necessary to begin to restore trust in our organisation. Let this be the turning point.”
08:30 – As Fifa’s 65th congress gets underway in Zurich, with voting in the presidential election expected to be finalised by late afternoon, senior figures from European soccer including Platini and Dyke refuse to rule out a European boycott of the 2018 World Cup in the event of Blatter’s re-election.
10:00 – Blatter gives a speech ahead of Friday’s vote in which he states that “it is not good for all this to occur two days before the election” and claims he has “a small question mark” regarding the timing of the arrests. He reiterates that he “cannot constantly supervise everybody in football.”
The soccer world reacts - who said what
Uefa: “Today's events are a disaster for Fifa and tarnish the image of football as a whole. Uefa is deeply shocked and saddened by them. These events show, once again, that corruption is deeply rooted in Fifa's culture. There is a need for the whole of Fifa to be "rebooted" and for a real reform to be carried out. The upcoming Fifa Congress risks to turn into a farce and therefore the European associations will have to consider carefully if they should even attend this Congress and caution a system, which, if it is not stopped, will ultimately kill football.”
Fifa comms chief Walter De Gregorio: “This for Fifa is good. It’s not good in terms of image, it’s not good in terms of reputation, but in terms of cleaning up, everything we did in the last four years, this is good.”
Uefa president Michel Platini: "A big, big, big majority of the European associations will vote for Prince Ali. People have had enough, they don't want this president any more."
Guinea-Bissau FA president Manuel Nascimento Lopes (speaking to Inside World Football): "I'm a Christian and this is blasphemy. It's a state conspiracy. People are always trying to knock Blatter. Africa will vote for Mr Blatter and I will follow that. I agree at some point there has to be change but let Blatter finish his mandate and see what he does. It's not all about the major European football countries. If you point three fingers at someone, there is always one you point at yourself. Tomorrow we are going to vote for Blatter. How do we know anyone else would be any better?”
FA chairman Greg Dyke: “Blatter has put out a statement saying now is the time to start rebuilding the trust in Fifa – there is no way of re-building trust in Fifa while Sepp Blatter is still there. Sepp Blatter has to go. He either has to go through a resignation, or he has to be out-voted or we have to find a third way. I think the time has come where the damage this has done to Fifa is so great that it can’t be re-built while Blatter is there so Uefa has got to try to force him out.”
Fifa ExCo member Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah (to Reuters): "Fifa should have a leader with a lot of experience. Not only that, but someone who has shown a strong commitment to the AFC over many years and Blatter has done that. Prince Ali is a good man, I work with him, I was a main supporter in the past, he is like my brother. He has a good future but I think he was in a little bit of a hurry. I think he needed to take the trust of Asia first before he earned the trust of the international community."
Fifa sponsors speak out
Adidas (top-tier Fifa sponsor): ‘The Adidas Group is fully committed to creating a culture that promotes the highest standards of ethics and compliance, and we expect the same from our partners. Following today’s news, we can therefore only encourage Fifa to continue to establish and follow transparent compliance standards in everything they do.’
Visa (top-tier): ‘Our disappointment and concern with Fifa in light of [Wednesday's] developments is profound. As a sponsor, we expect Fifa to take swift and immediate steps to address these issues within its organisation. This starts with rebuilding a culture with strong ethical practices in order to restore the reputation of the games for fans everywhere. Our sponsorship has always focused on supporting the teams, enabling a great fan experience, and inspiring communities to come together and celebrate the spirit of competition and personal achievement - and it is important that Fifa makes changes now, so that the focus remain on these going forward. Should Fifa fail to do so, we have informed them that we will reassess our sponsorship.’
Hyundai (top-tier): ‘As a company that places the highest priority on ethical standards and transparency, Hyundai Motor is extremely concerned about the legal proceedings being taken against certain Fifa executives and will continue to monitor the situation closely.’
McDonalds (second-tier): ‘McDonald's takes matters of ethics and corruption very seriously and the news from the U.S. Department of Justice is extremely concerning. We are in contact with Fifa on this matter. We will continue to monitor the situation very closely.’
Coca-Cola (top-tier): ‘This lengthy controversy has tarnished the mission and ideals of the Fifa World Cup and we have repeatedly expressed our concerns about these serious allegations. We expect Fifa to continue to address these issues thoroughly. Fifa has stated that it is responding to all requests for information and we are confident it will continue to cooperate fully with the authorities.’