VANCOUVER — Victor Montagliani says the mounting FIFA bribery scandal won’t taint the upcoming Women’s World Cup.
In fact, the president of Canada Soccer and chair of the tournament’s organizing committee thinks the event, set to begin Saturday in Edmonton, comes at just the right time.
“It’s a positive thing that the first tournament after this, whatever happened in the last week, is the Women’s World Cup,” Montagliani said Thursday at a press conference. “Women’s football is a very pure form of football. I think women’s football can shine some light on the dark clouds that are hanging over the game.”
Soccer’s world governing body has been rocked by arrests and indictments on both sides of the Atlantic prompted by corruption allegations from the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI.
A FIFA spokesperson at Thursday’s news conference tried numerous times to keep questions on the topic of the tournament, but Montagliani and the other officials present were grilled repeatedly by reporters about the scandal.
Montagliani responded “absolutely not” when asked if Canada paid bribes to win the right to host the Women’s World Cup — the country was the only one to put forth a bid — and also added that CONCACAF president Jeffrey Webb, who was arrested in last week’s raids in Switzerland, has done a lot of good for soccer.
Montagliani, who has cited the FIFA vice-president as an inspiration in the past, said that up until the time of Webb’s arrest it would have been hard to envision a man “that worked that hard to rid racism out of the game, to change governance structures” would be implicated in the scandal.
“With all due respect, you and your colleagues were saying the exact same thing,” Montagliani said pointedly. “You need to maybe look in the mirror a little bit and maybe not put people on a pedestal so you can whack the hell out of them after.
“If the allegations are true there’s absolutely no room for that in the game. Obviously if we’d all known that previously our opinions would have been quite different.”
FIFA president Sepp Blatter announced earlier this week he would be stepping down amidst the scandal after being re-elected just four days earlier. It remains unclear whether or not he will attend the tournament in Canada.
FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke was originally scheduled to attend Thursday’s new conference in Vancouver, but he backed out earlier this week.
The New York Times reported Monday that American law enforcement officials believe Valcke transferred $10 million back in 2008 to accounts controlled by Jack Warner, the former CONCACAF president and FIFA vice-president who faces corruption charges in the U.S.
Despite all the negativity surrounding the game at the moment, Montagliani said he believes the Women’s World Cup will help get the conversation back to what’s happening on the pitch.
“Whether you want to call it irony or destiny … I don’t know how you want to call it, but I think we should all (be thankful) that it’s the Women’s World Cup that is immediately following,” he said. “It’s an opportunity for women’s football to shine some light onto the game that perhaps has lost some of its moral compass.”
Note: Canada Soccer says it has sold over 920,000 tickets across the six host cities. It should be noted that FIFA counts doubleheader games as two tickets instead of one, even though a single ticket includes admission to both matches.
Follow @JClipperton_CP on Twitter
Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press