Saturday 22 October 2016

it's no laughing matter for Walter

De Gregorio fired over joke as EU tells Blatter to go now

FIFA's director of communications Walter De Gregorio has been fired days after making a joke on Swiss television about the world governing body, while pressure has mounted for his boss Sepp Blatter to step aside at once.

The European Parliament said Blatter's failure to depart immediately would block efforts to rid FIFA of rampant corruption.

The FIFA president announced his resignation last week as US and Swiss authorities widened their investigations into bribery and corruption at the sport's global governing body, but he is still at his desk.

EU lawmakers heaped pressure on Blatter, voting in favour of an eight-page resolution with a series of demands to clean up soccer.

The resolution said the parliament welcomed his decision to resign, but expressed "serious concern" that he might stay on for a further nine months before a new leader is appointed.

While the resolution is non-binding, the parliament acts as an echo chamber for public and government opinion in Europe.

The soap opera at FIFA took another turn when it announced that De Gregorio was leaving two days after making a joke at FIFA's expense on a Swiss chat show.

The Swiss-Italian, who had taken up his role in September 2011, had become a prominent figure within FIFA as a mouthpiece for the organisation, appearing in public debates and on television.

He had fronted up to the media storm two weeks ago in the immediate aftermath of a dawn raid on the luxury hotel when seven soccer officials, wanted by United States prosecutors on corruption charges, were arrested by Swiss police.

He also introduced the news conference where Blatter announced his resignation and appeared close to tears as the departing president announced his exit.

De Gregorio's departure follows an appearance on Swiss TV when, at the end of the programme, he was asked to tell his favourite joke.

He replied: "The FIFA president, secretary general and media director are sitting in a car. Who's driving. Answer? The police."

The joke made headlines in the Swiss media but FIFA's leaders were not amused. Blatter's public relations advisor also criticised De Gregorio in an article, and after the communications director confronted the FIFA president he was shown the door.

A FIFA statement gave no reason for De Gregorio leaving what had become an increasingly thankless job of defending FIFA during the scandal.

"Walter has worked incredibly hard for the past four years and we are immensely grateful for all he has done," said FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke.

The race to succeed Blatter gathered a new challenger on Wednesday when soccer great Zico formally declared his candidacy for the FIFA presidency, but the Brazilian admitted his chances of success were limited.

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