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FIFA Says It Will Delay Vote for 2026 World Cup Amid Corruption Scandal

FIFA's secretary general also defended himself against allegations of corruption.

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With intensifying U.S. and Swiss probes revealing apparent corruption at the highest levels of FIFA, the world soccer body’s decision about who will host the 2026 tournament is sure to be the most scrutinized ever. Now, FIFA says that vote will be delayed, as the organization grapples with the fallout of a scandal that has seen several of its senior executives indicted and arrested, and led to the resignation of its top boss, Sepp Blatter.

Speaking to reporters during a press conference in Russia, Jérôme Valcke, FIFA’s secretary general, said, “Due to the situation, I think it’s nonsense to start any bidding process for the time being.” FIFA confirmed the delay in a statement.

Voting for the 2026 tournament was supposed to take place in Kuala Lumpur in May 2017. FIFA said in its statement that the body’s executive committee will meet to discuss the bidding process “at a later date.” After narrowly losing to Qatar to host the 2022 tournament, the United States is considered by some observers to be a front-runner to host the 2026 tournament.

FIFA’s decisions to award to the 2018 games to Russia and the 2022 ones to Qatar — which has blistering summer temperatures and an abysmal record of working foreign construction workers to death — have long been clouded by allegations that the energy-rich countries effectively bought the rights to the tournaments.

Valcke was in Russia for preparatory meetings ahead of the draw for the 2018 tournament and said that the bidding process for that tournament had been clean. As U.S. authorities have unveiled evidence accumulated during their investigation, Valcke has come under scrutiny for a $10 million payment from South Africa to Jack Warner, one of the indicted soccer officials, that U.S. authorities say was a bribe to secure support for South Africa’s bid for the 2010 tournament.

FIFA has maintained it merely served as a middleman for what was a legitimate transfer of funds intended to promote the sport and that the payment was authorized by another executive, Julio Grondona, who died last year. That defense has been called into question by the revelation of a letter from the South African Football Association to FIFA that was addressed to Valcke and contained instructions for how the funds were to be transferred.

On Wednesday, Valcke reiterated FIFA’s role as a mere conduit for legitimate funds. “Why is this the fault of FIFA when the money is not FIFA’s money, FIFA has no responsibility on this money, it is South Africa’s money, and it was a gift to the African diaspora in the Caribbean,” Valcke told reporters. “You’ve decided that, after Blatter, I’m the head to be cut?”

Photo credit: Alessandro Della Bella/Getty Images

Elias Groll is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @EliasGroll

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