Irish unveil terms of secret FIFA cash deal over handball

AP News
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Posted: Jun 05, 2015 8:32 PM
Irish unveil terms of secret FIFA cash deal over handball

DUBLIN (AP) — Irish soccer chiefs disclosed documentary evidence Friday of how FIFA paid millions to buy Ireland's silence on the handball that cost the Irish a chance to reach the 2010 World Cup.

The documents, published after the Football Association of Ireland sustained a daylong barrage of international criticism over its decision to take the confidential payment, detail a series of meetings in Switzerland involving FAI and FIFA chiefs, including President Sepp Blatter. These followed Ireland's 2-1 loss on aggregate to France in November 2009, a result partly achieved by an unpunished Thierry Henry handball that produced France's playoff-clinching goal.

The self-described "moral compensation" contract, signed Jan. 15, 2010, by senior FAI and FIFA officials in Zurich, guaranteed the FAI immediate delivery of 5 million euros (then $7.13 million) on strict condition Irish officials never revealed existence of the deal. The payment was initially labeled a loan, but the contact included no terms for repayment, and the FAI never did pay it back.

The FAI also published letters showing the full 5 million euros entering the association's Dublin bank accounts five days later and being quickly deployed to reduce the association's debts connected to a new national stadium completed in 2010.

The signed contract committed the FAI "to waive any and all claims against FIFA" in exchange for cash, which included a separate $400,000 payment for an unrelated Irish soccer project, a new disclosure in Friday's documents. The contract specified that the FAI would "irrevocably and unconditionally accept the referee's decision" and could no longer appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland.

In an extensive section designed to ensure secrecy, the contract specified that FAI officials could not publicize its existence "without any limits in scope or time."

However, FAI chief executive John Delaney appeared to break that clause by confirming to Irish media last month that FIFA gave his organization an unspecified compensation payment. Delaney then offered more detail in a Thursday interview, and FIFA responded by confirming its payment to the FAI.

The FAI on Friday also published a June 13, 2014 letter from FIFA's deputy secretary general, Markus Kattner, informing the Irish federation it no longer needed to repay any of the purported loan. Kattner cited Ireland's failure to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil as justification.

The FAI in a statement said Blatter also offered a face-to-face apology to its negotiators at a Swiss meeting three days before the contract was struck. He had infuriated Irish soccer officials weeks earlier by revealing, to the laughter of FIFA delegates, that Ireland was trying to be entered as the 33rd qualifying team in South Africa.

Friday's disclosures came hours after Ireland's national team prepared for a friendly home match Sunday against England. Roy Keane, one of Ireland's greatest players and now an assistant national coach, said his team had "hardly spoken about" the deal.

"I'm not going into the FIFA stuff," Keane said outside the training facility.

But veterans of the 2009 squad said they were flabbergasted and annoyed to learn that FAI leaders traded principle for confidential cash.

"Certainly none of the staff knew about it and none of the players knew about it at the time," said Liam Brady, another former Irish star who served as assistant coach from 2008 to 2010. He called the murky deal "mind-boggling."

"It wasn't a loan. It was hush money to get rid of John Delaney and the FAI," said Keith Andrews, Ireland's starting defensive midfielder on the 2009 team. He described his reaction to the deal as a mixture of "disbelief and disgust."

"The fans, the country, we've been able to hold our heads high, with dignity, over the injustice we suffered in Paris that night. Now I think that's been taken away from us," Andrews said. "Now unfortunately we're going to be tarred with that same brush as FIFA. ... Taking the money off them was wrong."

The payment was first made public last year in an Irish newspaper, but attracted little attention. Nor did it spark overseas interest when Delaney last month spoke about the deal for the first time during an interview about the unfolding FIFA corruption scandal surrounding Blatter.

But when Delaney grew more expansive and detailed in an interview Thursday following Blatter's resignation this week, the deal became front-page news. World soccer authorities criticized it as unethical and a dangerous precedent in a sport where missed calls are common.

Fran Rooney, Delaney's predecessor atop the FAI, said FIFA shouldn't have paid a cent and the FAI shouldn't have hid the money in its books. He said Henry's uncalled handball "didn't stop us from going to the World Cup. It stopped us from getting a penalty shootout, perhaps. But it's nonsensical to think we had a case that we could have won."

Raymond Domenech, France's coach during the match, said the Irish should have pressed FIFA in public and in court to demand a place at the World Cup.

"Their qualification was at stake," Domenech told French radio network Europe1. "On a sporting level, it's disgraceful — unacceptable — that you might sacrifice that for money."

Many in Ireland support that sentiment, noting Delaney's original 2009 pledge following the handball to seek justice.

"It's not about money," Delaney said then. "This is about sporting integrity."

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Online: FAI documents, http://bit.ly/1eTJCwO