This morning Swiss officials arrested seven senior members of FIFA, following allegations of corruption within the world football body. The US Department of Justice and the FBI coordinated the operation, and arrests took place just days ahead FIFA’s 65th annual congress in Zurich.At 11:00 CET, FIFA’s Director of Communication and Public Affairs Walter De Gregorio fielded questions from the media. “None of us knew that this morning at 6 am they would start their actions. I can assure you I would have gone to bed earlier. We are all surprised, and that is why I decided after talking to the president and the general secretary that we should do a press conference even though I do not have all the information.”
According to reports the FIFA members are currently being held pending extradition to the US. Asked repeatedly whether he was surprised at the news, De Gregorio responded with conflicting answers. He insisted that the arrests were part of an investigation that “Fifa initiated on November 18th last year… Fifa welcomes this process and will cooperate fully with the attorney general and the office of justice”. However, in typical FIFA fashion, this same courtesy was not extended to the media, as he was “unwilling to comment on the names published this morning”.
The arrested parties include Jeffrey Webb, Fifa’s head of the confederation for North and Central America and the Caribbean, Eugenio Figueredo, president of South American football governing body Conmebol and Eduardo Li, who was due to join Fifa's executive committee.
Despite the severity of the investigation, De Gregorio tried to play down the developments, “This for FIFA is good. Not for our image or reputation, but for clearing up what we have done in the last few years. We would have not given the files to the general attorney had we not known that the consequences would be what we have now. So the process must go on and we must get concrete answers so that everything can be transparent.”
Although much of this news sounds positive in principle, a number of questions remain over FIFA, corruption, and the extent of their comfort level or involvement with the investigation. One reporter wondered whether FIFA, as is customary for organisations beset by scandal, will remove their president, to which Garcia responded “No the president is not involved, he is the head of FIFA, he is the president and there is re-election in 2 days. If they re-elect him then he will remain for 4 years.”
All in all, things are more unclear than ever before in the murky world of FIFA. The Garcia report still remains a mystery to the general public, the six officials arrested are presumed by FIFA to be innocent, and the FIFA communications officer seems to be confused over what is actually happening. In his final statement he was only able to confirm that the 2018 and 2022 World Cup could be subject to change following the investigation.
As usual, the only oblivious one seems to be Blatter, who was reportedly, “enthusiastic” about the news. De Gregorio later corrected himself saying, “He is not dancing in his office. He is calm, looking at what happened, and he is cooperating with everyone. He knows that these are the consequences of what we initiated.”
All of which begs the question as to why he seems so surprised by the news.