The ongoing saga of FIFA’s controversial decision to award the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar, respectively, took perhaps its most dramatic twist on Wednesday. In a dawn raid at a Zurich hotel, Swiss authorities arrested several FIFA officials with plans to extradite them to the United States. In total, 14 officials were charged by the U.S. Department of Justice with racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering following a more than three-year investigation by the FBI. Nine of those charged were current or former FIFA executives.
The actions took place just two days before the election for FIFA president, in which Sepp Blatter -- the man who has presided over soccer’s governing body since 1998 -- had been widely expected to emerge victorious against his sole challenger, Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein of Jordan.
While the charges were based on allegations dating back two decades, several hours after the arrests Swiss authorities opened up a separate criminal investigation into the bids for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
“The Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland (OAG) has opened criminal proceedings against persons unknown on suspicion of criminal mismanagement and of money laundering in connection with the allocation of the 2018 and 2022 Football World Cups,” read a statement from Swiss officials. “In the course of said proceedings, electronic data and documents were seized today at FIFA’s head office in Zurich.”
Russia and Qatar were awarded the competitions in 2010 after an unprecedented joint bidding process that immediately brought widespread allegations of corruption. FIFA launched an inquiry through its ethics committee but closed the case last November, refusing to release the report and stating that any breaches by Russia and Qatar in winning their winning bids were “very limited in scope.”
Pressure has been particularly strong on FIFA to hold a re-vote on the 2022 World Cup. There have been numerous allegations of human rights abuses over the treatment of migrant workers building the World Cup infrastructure in Qatar, while the tournament has already been moved to the winter due to the searing hot temperatures during the summer in the Middle East nation.
Through it all, FIFA has been adamant that both tournaments will go ahead as planned. And immediately after the news broke on Wednesday, FIFA’s director of communications, Walter de Gregorio, insisted the situation had not changed.
“The World Cups in 2018 and 2022 will be played in Russia and Qatar,” he said in a press conference.
Later, in a statement, FIFA said it was actively cooperating with the Swiss authorities in its investigation and claimed it was the “injured party.”
“FIFA is fully cooperating with the investigation and is supporting the collection of evidence in this regard,” the statement read. “As noted by the Swiss authorities, this collection of evidence is being carried out on a cooperative basis. We are pleased to see that the investigation is being energetically pursued for the good of football and believe that it will help to reinforce measures that FIFA has already taken.”