As the soccer world reels from the biggest scandal to hit its sport in recent history, the South African government is fighting back against allegations that it attempted to buy votes in order to host the 2010 World Cup.
“When we concluded the FIFA World Cup here in South Africa we got a clean audit report,” South African Ministry in the Presidency Jeff Radebe said in Cape Town, according to the AFP. “There has never been any suggestion that anything untoward happened in South Africa.”
In an indictment unsealed Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Justice accused South African officials of offering to pay $10 million to the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) to “support the African diaspora” in 2004, months ahead of the 2010 World Cup venue selection. The DOJ said the money was meant to ensure that then-CFU President Jack Warner, a FIFA executive and current defendant in the FIFA scandal, and two other unnamed co-conspirators would vote for South Africa to be the 2010 World Cup host.
Warner agreed to the deal, but after South Africa won its bid, the country said it could not pay the FIFA officials directly, according to the indictment. Instead, FIFA officials allegedly took $10 million from their own accounts that would have gone to South Africa to support the World Cup and gave it to the CFU.
Prior to that incident, the indictment claims that in the course of South Africa’s relationship with Warner, at one point a “high-ranking South African bid committee official” met a co-conspirator of Warner’s in a Paris hotel room, where the South African official handed over a briefcase full of American money in $10,000 stacks.
The AFP noted that South Africa’s Radebe did not directly address the specific DOJ allegations in his comments to reporters. Warner, who was a central player in several alleged schemes detailed by the DOJ, said in a video posted online Wednesday that he always “conducted [himself] with all FIFA sports practices.” Warner turned himself into local authorities in Trinidad and Tobago Wednesday.
South Africa’s alleged wrongdoing is just one of a series of purported schemes described in the 47-count indictment against 14 people, nine of them high-ranking current or former FIFA officials, unsealed yesterday. Other allegations include conspiracies to secure broadcast or merchandising rights to various football federations or tournaments.
Today FIFA President Sepp Blatter, who has not been accused of wrongdoing by the DOJ, said the corruption in the world of football “has to stop here and now.”
“We cannot allow the reputation of football and FIFA to be dragged through the mud,” he said. “Let this be the turning point."