SAMARA, Russia/ZURICH (Reuters) - Scandal-plagued FIFA postponed the bidding for the right to host the 2026 World Cup on Wednesday and Swiss authorities took possession of computer data from the global soccer body that a source said included records from the office of its President Sepp Blatter.
FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke said during an event in Russia that it would be “nonsense” to start the bidding process for the 2026 tournament for the time being.
The FBI are investigating bribery and corruption at FIFA, including scrutiny of how soccer’s governing body awarded World Cup hosting rights to Russia, which won the bidding for 2018, and Qatar, which is due to host the finals in 2022.
Swiss authorities are conducting their own probe into suspected mismanagement and money laundering in connection with the award of the two tournaments.
The Swiss Attorney General (OAG) confirmed that “FIFA handed over today seized IT data to the OAG”.
A spokesman added: “As already communicated, the OAG has opened criminal proceedings against persons unknown.”
A source close to the Swiss investigation said records from Blatter’s office were part of the probe. The BBC said data was also taken from the offices of Valcke and FIFA’s head of finance.
The OAG, which took data and documents from FIFA last month, will speak with Blatter and other officials if they are of interest to its investigation, the spokesman said.
FIFA confirmed it had over the data.
The extent of the turmoil engulfing FIFA was apparent in an emotional outburst by the usually composed Valcke, who said he was being destroyed by the media in his native France and gave a theatrical defense of his decision to sign off on a $10 million payment at the center of the U.S. bribery investigation.
Waving his pen in front of journalists, a visibly impatient Valcke asked: “You want me to take this pen and to hit my head and say ‘Hey! I have been stupid, I should have asked many more questions?”
“You have decided that after Blatter I have to be next head to be cut?” Valcke said at a news conference in the Russian city of Samara, one of the 2018 host venues.
Blatter tendered his resignation on June 2, four days after having been re-elected for a fifth term.
FIFA meanwhile began the process of finding a replacement, saying its executive committee would meet in July to discuss dates for the Congress which will elect a new president.
Blatter wants to remain in office until his successor is elected in order to carry out reforms at FIFA. But there have been widespread calls for him to step down at once given the gravity of the crisis facing the 111-year-old organization.
His announcement came less than a week after Swiss police staged a dawn raid on a luxury hotel in Zurich and arrested several officials on corruption charges filed by U.S. prosecutors in New York.
On the 2026 World Cup, Valcke said: “Due to the situation, I think it’s nonsense to start any bidding process for the time being. It will be postponed.”
The decision on who hosts the 2026 finals had been due to be made in Kuala Lumpur in 2017.
Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said he saw no threat to Russia hosting the cup in 2018 and its bid was in line with the law.
Valcke, Blatter’s right-hand man, said Russia’s plans were on track and there had been nothing in its bid to suggest it was not in line with the regulations.
In Paris, UEFA president Michel Platini, holding his first news conference since Blatter’s resignation, welcomed the decision to postpone the bidding for 2026.
“There is no leadership at the moment, so it’s normal that it’s suspended. It’s good,” said Platini, who has become a leading critic of Blatter and FIFA.
The German Football Association meanwhile came up with a radical plan for reform of FIFA that is likely to be resisted by many of FIFA’s members outside Europe.
Its president, Wolfgang Niersbach, said Blatter was not doing himself or soccer any favors by staying on.
Niersbach demanded a clean-up at FIFA and said its voting structure should be based on the “size and sporting relevance” of its member federations.
At present, each of FIFA’s 209 members has a vote, giving soccer powerhouses Germany and Brazil the same influence as tiny Pacific islands.
In an early indication that the FIFA scandal is likely to have wider legal repercussions, the Dutch city of Eindhoven said it was considering suing FIFA to recover 1.5 million euros spent on the Dutch/Belgian bid for the 2018 cup.
A lawsuit could follow if the campaign is found to have been tainted by corruption, said spokeswoman Corine van der Putten.
additional reporting by Amlan Chakraborty in New Delhi, John Irish and Mark John in Paris; writing by Brian Homewood in Lausanne; editing by Giles Elgood