28 May 2015

FIFA officials deflect scandal questions

7:21 pm on 28 May 2015

FIFA officials in Auckland have moved to shut down questions about the major corruption scandal facing the sporting body.

The head of the tournament's organising committee is one of seven senior FIFA officials arrested in Switzerland and charged with racketeering, fraud and money-laundering.

Jeffrey Webb was arrested in a morning raid at a Zurich hotel on the eve of FIFA's annual congress.

Fourteen people have been indicted and seven senior officials have been arrested in Zurich on charges of racketeering, fraud and money-laundering over the past two decades.

A news conference was held this afternoon as part of the start of the Under 20 World Cup, beginning in this country in two days.

Officials at the conference said they would only accept questions about the tournament itself.

The media still asked about the arrests over several minutes but FIFA communications worker Monika Huser said repeatedly they could not be answered.

"Well, we can't actually talk about the recent events happening in Zurich - however, we appreciate that this is important for you... We ask for your understanding at this time."

Questions on the arrests from the media lasted several minutes before the news conference was called to an end.

Les Murray, a former member of the FIFA ethics committee between 2006 and 2012, said fighting corruption in a global body was a tough task and he did the best he could.

He told Checkpoint they brought down dozens of people but lacked the evidence to catch them all.

"We were not a police force, we were a judicial body. Somebody brought evidence to us that somebody was corrupt - we heard that case. I was there for six years, and I know how things operated, and I sleep very well at night about my role on the FIFA ethics committee."

No 'taint' on NZ football tournament

Dave Beeche

Dave Beeche Photo: RNZ / Andrew McRae

Football's top brass are adamant the scandal will not cast a shadow over the Under-20 World Cup in this country, beginning in two days' time.

The man behind New Zealand's bid to host the FIFA Under 20 World Cup said the bid was clean.

Former Chief Executive of New Zealand Football Michael Glading presented New Zealand's bid to FIFA.

He said he never dealt with Jeffrey Webb and at no point did he have to put up any money into the bid.

New Zealand representative on the under-20 organising committee, Dave Beeche, said it was business as usual for the tournament.

"We don't anticipate any impact on the tournament at all at this stage," he said.

"Obviously it's a developing situation, but we're focusing on the task at hand and that's putting the final touches in place and make sure we deliver a great event."

Swiss prosecutors have launched investigations into how the rights to host full World Cup tournaments were awarded, but Mr Beeche said he was not aware of any investigation into how New Zealand earned the rights to host this one.

Sports Minister Jonathan Coleman dismissed suggestions the New Zealand tournament might be tarred by the scandal.

"The focus of the local organising committee is actually on the tournament delivery and obviously they've got a big job ahead of them.

"And all this stuff is happening overseas so it'll be a while for all the to come through the wash, but I'm confident the New Zealand has no direct involvement or implication in anything that involves that touches this scandal."

Dr Coleman said he was certain the Under 20 World Cup will be a great success.

Earlier, former NZ Football chairperson Frank van Hattum told Morning Report he was not surprised by the latest scandal to hit world football's governing body, but any investigation was outside NZ Football's control.

"The under-20 tournament will be continuing and will be unaffected by this; there'll be some officials won't come out because they've got other obligations in the next few weeks, I dare say.

"Most of the organisation of the tournament, if there's an investigation to be done into that, is outside of New Zealand's control."

The former Chief Executive of New Zealand Football, Michael Glading, who presented New Zealand's bid to FIFA, said their bid was clean.

He told Checkpoint he never dealt with Jeffrey Webb, and at no point did he have to put up any money in the bid.

NZ Football CEO Andy Martin is in Zurich for the annual FIFA Congress, and issued a statement:

New Zealand Football CEO Andy Martin.

New Zealand Football CEO Andy Martin. Photo: Supplied

"The developments in the last 24 hours are very serious and we continue to monitor the situation closely so that we can react appropriately," Mr Martin said.

"Our delegation in Zurich are in close contact with our executive committee and Oceania Football and we will continue to play our role in upholding the integrity of FIFA and its operations."

He said NZ Football and the local organising committee would remain focused on delivering a "great FIFA U-20 World Cup".

The first game will be New Zealand versus Ukraine at North Harbour Stadium in Auckland on Saturday 30 May.