BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - A 16-team soccer tournament to be played in the United States next year to celebrate 100 years of South America’s Copa America has been cast into doubt by the arrest of top FIFA officials on multi-million dollar bribery charges.
Jose Luis Meiszner, general secretary of the South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL), said a question mark hung over the tournament also because there was an order for the arrest of the owners of the tournament’s broadcasting rights.
Seven top officials of soccer’s world governing body FIFA, all from CONMEBOL and CONCACAF which governs soccer in North and Central America and the Caribbean, were arrested in Zurich last week in a U.S. Department of Justice investigation.
“Today, let’s put a giant question mark over the possibility of playing that Cup in the United States,” Argentine Meiszner told Argentina’s Radio America in an interview.
“The president of one of the confederations is under arrest, the companies that own the rights have had their funds blocked...nobody can seriously say that things in the future are going to be as foreseen,” he said.
CONCACAF president Jeffrey Webb of the Cayman Islands is one of the officials arrested in a dawn raid last Wednesday on a luxury hotel in Zurich, the Swiss city where FIFA has its headquarters. He has since been suspended by CONCACAF.
“We have to be absolutely prepared for huge turbulence to carry out all the events (on the calendar) given that the rights owners are fundamentally under investigation by the law and absolutely unable to comply with their contractual commitments,” Meiszner said.
The Paraguay-based CONMEBOL told Reuters on Tuesday they had nothing to add to Meiszner’s comments.
The Copa America, with its 2015 edition starting in nine days time in Chile, is the world’s oldest active international football tournament.
It has been played by 12 teams since 1987, the 10 South American nations that form CONMEBOL plus two guest teams, usually from CONCACAF and particularly Mexico though also the United States, Costa Rica, Honduras and this year Jamaica for the first time.
The extraordinary Centenary Copa America was being organized by both confederations with CONCACAF providing six teams.
In its indictment, the U.S. DoJ said 14 people, including five sports promotion executives, had been involved in bribery for more $150 million during more than two decades in the biggest scandal in the 111 year existence of FIFA.
It revealed a complex scheme of money laundering and millions of dollars of undeclared bank deposits with CONMEBOL accused of selling broadcasting rights for the Copa America in 2015, 2019 and 2023 plus the centenary event paying $100 million in bribes.
Writing by Rex Gowar; editing by Martyn Herman