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Thursday 8 December 2016

'We paid FIFA $10m but it was not a bribe,' insists South Africa sports minister

South Africa's Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula
South Africa's Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula

Sepp Blatter's shock announcement he is to step down as FIFA president continued to reverberate throughout football as South Africa's sports minister denied the country had paid World Cup bribes.

Blatter could now be facing an investigation by the FBI into his own activities after the disclosure of a US dollars 10million payment was made via FIFA's executive office to disgraced FIFA vice-president Jack Warner connected to the 2010 World Cup.

South Africa's sports minister Fikile Mbalula said the money - described as a bribe to secure the World Cup for South Africa by a US justice department indictment - was an agreed contribution to support the "African diaspora" in the Caribbean.

Mbalula told a news conference: "The money was to support other projects in the diaspora. What we are saying is we did not bribe. We don't know what compromised individuals say when they are compromised."

The South African Football Association sent a letter - obtained by Press Association Sport - in 2008 to FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke saying the money should be administered directly by Warner, who is currently on bail in Trinidad pending extradition to the United States.

Mbalula added that the South African government did not know what had happened to the USD 10million.

He said: "We don't know. We can't account for it. The fact that later they turned gangsters, that is not our problem. We were not sniffer dogs to check everybody's legitimacy."

Reports in the US say Blatter himself is being investigated by the FBI.

Blatter's announcement comes just four days after he was re-elected for a fifth term and follows corruption charges against FIFA officials that caused the biggest crisis in the world governing body's history.

A new election is to take place between December and March, and Blatter will remain in position until then.

Blatter's announcement is sure to create uncertainty over the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, which are being hosted by Russia and Qatar respectively.

South Korea's former FIFA vice-president Chung Mong-Joon said he is considering standing to succeed Blatter.

Chung, who served on FIFA's executive committee from 1994 to 2011, said he will "listen closely" to the opinions of others involved in international football before making up his mind, according to the Korean news service Yonhap.

UEFA president Michel Platini, one of the possible candidates to succeed Blatter, has postponed a meeting of European associations in Berlin on Saturday.

Platini said: "It is with great concern that I, like most football fans around the world, have been following the daily developments regarding the investigations pertaining to FIFA corruption matters.

"Due to (Tuesday's) announcement and the uncertain and unpredictable nature of the investigations, I have decided that it would be more appropriate to postpone the meeting that was announced last week, and which could have taken place in Berlin this weekend.

"Considering new information is revealed every day, I believe it is wiser to take time to assess the situation, so together we can take a position on this issue. There will be other opportunities for us to meet in the coming weeks and by then hopefully more light will have been shed on this matter. During the weekend in Berlin, we will aim to focus our attention on one of many great occasions at UEFA - the UEFA Champions League final."

The Russia 2018 local organising committee issued a statement on Wednesday afternoon in which it praised Blatter for his "enormous contribution" to football at all levels.

It read: "The LOC Russia 2018 highly respects FIFA president Joseph S Blatter for his decision to lay down his mandate at the helm of FIFA, which he has been heading for almost two decades.

"We appreciate the enormous contribution that president Blatter has made to the development of football as head of FIFA at all levels - from grass-root development work to the pinnacle, which is the FIFA World Cup.

"In 2018 the FIFA World Cup will be held for the first time on the territory of the world's largest country. The Russia 2018 LOC will continue to work closely with FIFA towards this goal on a daily basis."

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