ZURICH– Soccer’s governing body FIFA called the arrest of six of its leading officials on bribery charges a “difficult moment” but said it would not derail President Sepp Blatter’s bid to win a fifth term in an election on Friday.
At a news conference in Zurich, FIFA spokesman Walter De Gregorio struck a defiant tone, saying a criminal investigation into FIFA’s awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups was unrelated to the looming leadership vote.
He also said he expected those World Cups, scheduled to take place in Russia and Qatar respectively, to go ahead as planned despite suspicions of mismanagement and money laundering linked to the bids.
“It is certainly a difficult moment for us,” De Gregorio said. “It is a hard time for us. But this is good for FIFA. It confirms that we are on the right track.”
Asked if the election of the FIFA president would go ahead, he added: “There was never such an idea to postpone the congress nor the election, one thing has nothing to do with the other.”
Several high-ranking soccer officials, including two vice-presidents of FIFA, were arrested by Swiss police on Wednesday and detained pending extradition to the United States.
Swiss authorities announced that they had opened criminal proceedings against individuals related to the two World Cup bids. The Swiss attorney general said the proceedings were separate to a U.S. criminal investigation into the allocation of media, marketing and sponsorship rights for soccer tournaments.
Those arrested did not include Blatter, the Swiss head of football’s multi-billion dollar governing body FIFA, but several officials just below him in the hierarchy of the wealthiest and most powerful sports body on earth.
“Russia and Qatar will be played, this is fact today, this is what I can tell you, not more not less,” De Gregorio said.
He said that Blatter was “not dancing in his office” following the arrests but remained “calm” and was prepared to cooperate fully with investigators.
Blatter will be seeking a fifth term in charge of soccer’s governing body in a vote on Friday, with Jordan’s Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein the only other candidate for the post.