FIFA offered payment to the Football Association of Ireland in exchange for the organization’s agreement not to sue over a botched referee call that cost Ireland a spot in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, FAI chief executive John Delaney confirmed Thursday. Delaney’s admission came just days after longtime FIFA President Sepp Blatter resigned from his post amid a corruption scandal unprecedented in the international soccer body’s history.
Ireland lost out on a spot in the 2010 World Cup after referees failed to penalize France’ Thierry Henry for a handball moments before his teammate William Gallas scored a game-tying goal in a 2009 qualifying match. Later, Blatter denied Ireland’ request to be included as the 33rd team to enter the tournament, the Guardian reported. But when Ireland confronted FIFA about the mistake, the organization purportedly offered a financial solution.
“We felt we had a legal case against FIFA because of how the World Cup play-off hand’t worked out for us with the Henry handball,” Delaney said in an interview with Irish radio outlet RTE, audio of which was obtained by The Independent. “Also the way [Sepp] Blatter behaved, if you remember on stage, having a snigger and having a laugh at us. That day when I went in, and I told him how I felt about him, there were some expletives used and we came to an agreement.”
He continued: “That was a Thursday and on Monday the agreement was all signed and all done. It’s a very good agreement for the FAI and a very legitimate agreement for the FAI, but I’m bound by confidentiality for naming the figure … It was a payment, an agreement not to proceed with a legal case.”
Delaney said confidentiality agreements forbade him from disclosing the payment amount, though various outlets have reported it was five million euros ($5.6 million). A FIFA representative described the payment as a loan for “the construction of a stadium in Ireland,” the BBC reports. FAI would have had to repay the loan if Ireland qualified for last summer’s World Cup in Brazil, but the team failed to do so.
Delaney denied that he’s ever personally accepted a bribe during his time as the FAI’s chief executive. The U.S. Justice Department indicted several current and former FIFA officials last week on charges that they accepted more than $150 million in bribes in exchange for preferential treatment on media and marketing rights related to international soccer tournaments.