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FIFA signalled ‘open for bribes’ with 2010 World Cup awards, witness says

FIFA signalled ‘open for bribes’ with 2010 World Cup awards, witness says
A replica of the World Cup. (Photo: Christopher Pike/Bloomberg)

The former head of a sports-marketing firm who says he made illegal cash payments to win broadcasting rights for global soccer matches told a New York jury that FIFA, the sport’s governing body, had made it very clear in 2010 it “was open for bribes”.

That year, prosecutors caught two FIFA bosses on camera taking bribes just before the organisation decided that Russia would host the World Cup tournament in 2018 and Qatar would host in 2022.

“It was like the FIFA executive committee was writing in the clouds, in the sky, ‘We are open for bribes’,” said Alejandro Burzaco, the star government witness in the trial of two former Fox sports executives, Hernan Lopez and Carlos Martinez. They’re accused of wire-fraud and money-laundering conspiracies for paying bribes to secure the broadcast rights to soccer tournaments. 

“The risk was much greater after December 2010,” said Burzaco, a former banker who has pleaded guilty and is cooperating with federal prosecutors. “There was a general surprise, and I think that substantially changed the risk of paying bribes in the soccer world.”  

Many had expected the US to be selected because attendance records were broken when the country hosted the 1994 World Cup, Burzaco said.

“How can a country compete with no stadiums, in the middle of the desert, in 120ºF [49ºC]?” he said.

Burzaco said he began paying bribes with Lopez in early 2010, but after the controversy over Qatar and FIFA executives getting caught, he said he warned the Fox executive “we had to be careful because we could get in trouble”.

Burzaco previously testified at a 2017 trial that several powerful soccer officials were paid more than $1-million from Qatar sports authorities to award the country the World Cup. BM/DM

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