Scandal-ridden FIFA confirmed Thursday that it paid Irish soccer authorities more than $7 million in a secret agreement not to go to court over Ireland's elimination from the 2010 World Cup thanks to a missed call by one of its referees.
The governing body of world soccer — already beset by the indictments of nine current and former senior officials and the resignation of its president, Sepp Blatter, in a U.S. investigation of alleged bribery and corruption spanning 20 years — called the payment a "loan" that the Football Association of Ireland didn't have to repay.
The Irish soccer association characterized the deal in a statement Thursday as a "legal settlement agreement ... following the threat of a legal case by the Association against the world governing body in early 2010."
The payment stemmed from a two-game playoff in November 2009 between France and Ireland, who had ended up tied in qualifying for a place in the 2010 World Cup final round.
France won the playoff 2-1, with French captain Thierry Henry admitting afterward that he illegally played the ball with his hands in the passing that led to France's winning second goal — which Time magazine included on its list of the 10 worst incidents of cheating in sports history.
FIFA said at the time that the referee's decision, even if wrong, was final. Irish soccer authorities never followed through on threats to sue the organization.
In an interview Thursday night on national broadcaster RTE Radio 1, Chief Executive John Delaney said the Irish association believed it had grounds for a legal case against FIFA. But he said the 5 million-euro payment — equivalent to about $7.3 million at the time and about $5.6 million at the close of markets Thursday — was "a very good agreement for the FAI and a very legitimate agreement for the FAI."
The Irish association's statement said that the payment was made in early 2010 but that it couldn't be revealed because the deal included a confidentiality provision.
"FIFA's settlement with the Association has at no time influenced the FAI's criticism of FIFA, as demonstrated by our consistent criticisms of Sepp Blatter," it said.
In its statement, FIFA said the payment was a loan "for the construction of a stadium in Ireland."
"The terms agreed between FIFA and the FAI were that the loan would be reimbursed if Ireland qualified for the 2014 FIFA World Cup" — which it failed to do.
The disclosure is merely the latest of many charges surrounding the organization of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
Chuck Blazer, a former senior official of both FIFA and the confederation governing soccer in North and Central America and the Caribbean, pleaded guilty in 2013 to having accepted a bribe from the South African government through intermediaries for his support of South Africa's bid to host the 2010 games.
In a similar explanation, South Africa's sports minister Wednesday described the payment — part of $10 million in total that it distributed to Blazer and a second FIFA official — as a gift to help pay for soccer development in the Caribbean. He said the bulk of the money was paid directly to Jack Warner, then a FIFA vice president and Blazer's boss at the regional confederation.
Warner was among the nine current or former FIFA officials charged with fraud, bribery and money laundering in the U.S. indictment last week. He said Thursday that he feared for his life and threatened to release "an avalanche" of documents proving even wider corruption at FIFA.
Blazer also pleaded guilty to facilitating a bribe in connection with the awarding of the 1998 World Cup final round to France, and the FBI has said it is looking into possible corruption in the awarding of the tournaments for 2018 and 2022.