WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Football New Zealand doesn’t expect the arrests of some leading FIFA executives on corruption charges to have any impact on the Under-20 World Cup, which kicks off Saturday.
CONCACAF president Jeffrey Webb, who chaired the FIFA organizing committee for the Under-20 tournament and visited New Zealand in February for the draw, was among those arrested in dawn raids by Swiss police on Wednesday.
Football New Zealand chief executive Andy Martin issued a statement Thursday saying organizers “continue to monitor the situation closely so that we can react appropriately” but “do not anticipate that these events will impact on the tournament.”
“The event venues, staff and volunteers have been working hard and are ready to stage the biggest football event this country has ever seen.”
New Zealand’s representative on the tournament organizing committee, Dave Beeche, told Radio New Zealand “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.”
Michael Glading, who led the winning bid to host the tournament, said the process in which New Zealand vied with Turkey, Peru and Wales was “100 percent straight.”
“I’d be staggered if any of the under-age events were in any way involved in any corruption,” Glading told the New Zealand Herald. “Unfortunately the imagery of FIFA, of course, at the very top level of the game there are some very muddy waters and this is obviously flushing that out. But in the development area of the game, FIFA is amazing.”
Former New Zealand Football chairman Frank van Hattum, who also served on FIFA ethics committees with responsibility for transparency and compliance, said the country’s successful bid for the under-20 tournament was untainted.
“I don’t think the corruption tentacles will touch New Zealand,” van Hattum told Radio New Zealand. “We are lily white. I have my hand on my heart when I say that.”
At the tournament’s official opening news conference in Auckland on Thursday FIFA officials refused to take questions on the corruption scandal.
When journalists persisted for several minutes, FIFA communications officer Monika Huser declared the news conference closed and the officials, including FIFA head of the Under-20 World Cup Marion Mayer-Vorfelder and Project Leader Rhiannon Martin, left the stage.
The officials had remained silent as Huser responded to questions about Webb’s arrest.
“We don’t want to talk about it,” Huser said. “We can’t actually talk about the recent events happening in Zurich.
“We cannot, even if we wanted to. We do not have any more information. We cannot comment on that and we are awaiting further guidance.”
Huser said the tournament was the priority.
“I think we’re all here to promote this beautiful tournament that is going to kick off in two days,” she said. “I might start sounding like a broken record — I apologize — but again I cannot comment at this stage.”