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 suffered 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 infamous Thierry Henry handball that went uncalled and 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 that 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, it published the full contract after FIFA acknowledge the deal this week.

The FAI also published a June 13, 2014, letter from FIFA’s deputy secretary general, Markus Kattner, informing the Irish federation that it no longer needed to repay any of the purported loan.

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

The disclosures came hours after Ireland’s national team trained in preparation 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.

Liam Brady, who stepped down as former coach Giovanni Trappatoni’s assistant after the 2010 World Cup campaign, called news of the secret FIFA payout “mind-boggling” and said he knew nothing about it.

“Certainly none of the staff knew about it and none of the players knew about it at the time,” Brady said.

The payment was first made public last year in an Irish newspaper, but attracted little international attention at the time. FAI chief executive John Delaney confirmed the existence of the deal last week but declined to specify the amount of cash paid.

With Blatter having resigned this week amid a widespread corruption probe, the deal became front-page news once FIFA, responding to Delaney’s comments, confirmed its existence Thursday.

Some criticized the deal as setting a dangerous precedent for world soccer.

The president of the German soccer federation, Wolfgang Niersbach, said he sympathized with Ireland’s outrage over the bad call, which he called “a real injustice.”

“But you cannot compensate it with money and no court would have ruled in their favor,” Niersbach told German television network ZDF.

Rooney said he couldn’t believe that FIFA had paid a cent. 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.”

___

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