President Barack Obama urged soccer’s world governing body to operate with greater accountability as U.S. prosecutors pursue a criminal investigation that has already led to charges against several of the group’s top officials.
While declining to comment on the inquiry being led by the Justice Department, Obama said that in his conversations with officials in Europe, there’s a consensus that FIFA needs to be run with greater integrity. He added that as soccer’s popularity increases in the U.S., it’s essential that the sport be managed “in an upright manner.”
Soccer “is a game, it’s also a massive business,” the president said at a news conference at the end of the Group of Seven Summit in southern Germany. “It is a source of incredible national pride.”
FIFA is embroiled in scandal following U.S. charges that sports marketers paid more than $150 million in bribes and kickbacks over 24 years for media and marketing rights to soccer tournaments. Nine FIFA officials and five sports-marketing executives were indicted on May 27, and U.S. officials say more people may face charges as the probe continues.
On June 2, Sepp Blatter announced his resignation as FIFA president, days after winning re-election to a new term. Blatter, who wasn’t among those charged, saw his 17-year tenure atop soccer’s governing body marred by controversy including the awarding of the next two World Cups to Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022.
Domenico Scala, the independent chairman of FIFA’s audit and compliance committee, has said that the organization will undertake substantial reforms in the wake of the scandal.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said last week that the organization would “benefit from some new leadership.”
“This is an opportunity for that organization to try to improve their public image and to make sure that the actions of that organization are consistent with their mission,” Earnest said.