LONDON (Reuters) - The latest allegations about corruption and bribery leveled at FIFA’s hierarchy are explosive because for the first time they have been made by an insider — a member of the world governing body’s own powerful executive committee.
FIFA’s investigation into presidential candidate Mohamed bin Hammam and CONCACAF chief Jack Warner was sparked by a report from Chuck Blazer, the prominent and outspoken 66-year-old who is a fellow member of the governing body’s executive committee.
Blazer’s intervention is highly significant, coming a week before the FIFA presidential election in Zurich, where delegates from 208 countries will decide whether Sepp Blatter gets a fourth term or Bin Hammam a first.
Warner and Bin Hammam, the head of the Asian Football Confederation, strongly denied any wrongdoing.
Bin Hammam said in a statement he still expected to be able to stand in next Wednesday’s election, suggesting the investigation was “little more than a tactic” from his rival, but the claims may have scuppered his hopes of victory.
Now, instead of spending the last few days of his campaign concentrating on his bid, the 62-year-old Qatari faces an appearance before FIFA’s Ethics Committee on Sunday.
The latest allegations have not been made by journalists, or as part of a media sting, but come from one of FIFA’s most senior officials who has sat on the executive committee since 1996 and expressed his concerns to FIFA about “possible violations of the FIFA Code of Ethics.”
Blazer is the general secretary of CONCACAF, the confederation that covers his native United States, the rest of North and Central America and the Caribbean.
The timing of his report means the claims overshadow almost every other corruption allegation laid at FIFA’s door over the past few years.
His report concerns a meeting of the Caribbean Football Union that Bin Hammam attended in Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago, on May 10/11.
The meeting was organized by Warner so delegates could hear Bin Hammam put his case after he missed the CONCACAF Congress in Miami a week previously because he failed to obtain a U.S. visa.
Blatter did attend the Congress and addressed delegates but afterwards Warner said it was only fair that Bin Hammam had the right to do so too.
After the meeting took place, Warner, who has long been a Blatter supporter, announced that although CONCACAF, which votes as a 35-member block, usually supported Blatter, his confederation would not officially declare which candidate it would support until just before the election.
Two highly placed soccer officials, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, believe CONCACAF’s support for Blatter is not as strong as it has traditionally been and a swing toward Bin Hammam could damage Blatter’s chances of winning.
Another source close to Blatter’s campaign said the incumbent does not need CONCACAF’s votes for victory because he has enough support pledged already from Africa, Europe, Oceania and South America.
Unless Blazer, who was not immediately available to comment, gives his reasons for acting now against a man who is effectively his boss in his confederation and could run world soccer for the next four years, FIFA watchers can only speculate.
The allegations appear unconnected with other serious corruption claims that Blatter has promised to investigate before next week’s election.
The result of that election, or whether it even takes place at all, will depend on the outcome of Sunday’s hearing.
Editing by Kevin Fylan