“They called me mad but thankfully today the truth is out and I am enjoying it,” said Diego Maradona, who has long been at odds with the sport’s governing body.
“They hate soccer. They hate transparency. Enough shady dealings. Enough lying to the people,” the former midfielder told an Argentinian radio station.
All 18 figures named on the indictment are from the Americas: three Brazilians, three Argentinians, three from Trinidad and Tobago, two from the United States, and one each from Uruguay, Paraguay, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and the Cayman Islands. There is also an Englishman – Costa Takkas – who is a former secretary general of the football association of the Cayman Islands.
Arguably the most powerful among them was José Maria Marin, the former head of the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF), who is from the same clique of football kingpins as his countrymen and predecessor Ricardo Teixeira and Fifa ex-president João Havelange – both of whom were embroiled in corruption scandals.
The CBF headquarters in Rio de Janeiro are named after the 83-year-old Marin, who could face a lengthy jail term if convicted on charges of corruption and money laundering.
It is far from being the first controversy to surround the CBF president, whose appointment in 2012 was controversial, given his support for the country’s military dictatorship and his alleged association with the torture and killing of a journalist, Vladimir Herzog.
Herzog’s son Ivo told the Guardian the arrest was a step towards justice. “We still need to wait for the conviction to fully celebrate. If we were unable to suit Marin for his actions during the military regime, at least he may be punished due to his dishonest character,” he said.
Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff, who was tortured during the dictatorship era, was reportedly reluctant to share a stage with Marin even before he was indicted.
In comments on Wednesday she welcomed the crackdown. “All investigations on this issue are very important,” she said. “I think it will allow soccer to become more professional. I don’t see how it can endanger Brazilian soccer.”
Like Fifa, football associations and confederations across the region issued statements declaring themselves shocked at the scandal, even though this is simply the latest and most spectacular in a series of corruption revelations concerning football officials.
“The new management #CBF which began on 16 April 2015, reaffirms its commitment to truth and transparency,” Brazil’s organisation said in a tweet that prompted considerable ridicule.
The South American Football Confederation, Conmebol, issued a statement repudiating the bribery and promised to “unreservedly support the investigations”. Several of its most prominent members are among those who were arrested on Wednesday.
In Uruguay newspapers tracked how the head of Conmebol, Eugenio Figueredo, had fallen from the sport’s pinnacle in the region to crime suspect . The 83-year-old is a member of the regional old guard. He was vice-president of Conmebol for 20 years and in 2014 was appointed vice-president of Fifa.
But like many of the others on the FBI indictment Figueredo’s career has been marked by controversy. Former Paraguayan goalkeeper and captain José Luis Chilavert accused him of cronyism in one radio interview that has subsequently been republished. The República newspaper pointed out that he could face the harshest punishment among those arrested on Wednesday. As well as corruption charges, the US indictment says he could also be charged with naturalisation fraud, which carries a maximum ten year penalty and the revoking of his US passport.
While many commentators in the region cheered at the partial clearing out of the old guard – including Paraguay’s Nicolás Leoz and Venezuela’s Rafael Esquivel – others lamented that it had taken foreign crime agencies to deal with a problem that had been well known for decades.
In a column titled “Fifa Nostra”, the Chilean journalist Juan Cristóbal Guarello mockingly observed that those indicted had good reason to feel disgruntled.
“Interpol has arrested them for doing what they always did without reproach: behaving as a bigwig in the world of professional football. All the allegations that they face (fraud and money laundering) are everyday elements of their activity. That is to say they are an essential part of football for rent,” he wrote.
His comments were reprinted in The Clinic, a Chilean satirical magazine that is popular in several countries. It also ran popular internet memes on its website showing photoshopped images of Blatter in jail, Fifa as a mafia organisation, Maradona giving it the finger and the Uruguayan president, José Mujica, describing Fifa as a “manga de viejos hijos de puta” (a bunch of old bastards).
This came closer to capturing the mood on the streets, in stadiums and on social networks, where chatter was more of the nature of “At last!” and “The bastards had it coming!”
On Twitter the Brazilian commentator Xico Sa called for a minute of noise at Thursday’s football matches to celebrate the arrests.
The Argentinian journalist Rodrigo Orihuela mused: “Not sure this is what Havelange, Blatter and all had in mind when crusading for more US interest in football.” Arrocho Fiscal of @BrazilFinance reckoned the score was “USA 7×1 Fifa”. – © Guardian News & Media 2015