In the midst of an escalating financial scandal, FIFA admitted yesterday to giving Ireland $5 million in compensation for missing a place at the 2010 World Cup after Thierry Henry's hand ball set up France's winning goal.
FIFA disclosed the payment after the money was mentioned in a radio interview by Football Association of Ireland chief executive John Delaney. Neither FIFA nor the FAI had disclosed the agreement to stave off legal action following the contentious 2009 playoff game.
The revelation was made two days after FIFA president Sepp Blatter announced under pressure that he will resign, likely by March. Blatter, who has headed FIFA since 1998, was re-elected to a fifth term last Friday despite criminal investigations into FIFA that included U.S. criminal charges against executive committee members and arrests at the FIFA Congress in Zurich.
The loan highlights the lack of transparency that plunged FIFA into the biggest scandal of its 111-year history.
In November 2009, Ireland was furious that Henry's hand ball in extra time enabled William Gallas to score and give France a 2-1 aggregate win and a place in the 32-nation field in South Africa. Referee Martin Hansson was heavily criticized for not making a hand ball call.
FIFA rejected requests by the FAI that the game be replayed and Ireland be added to the field as an extra team.
"While the referee's decision is final, and the Football Association of Ireland ultimately accepted it as such, in January 2010 FIFA entered into an agreement with FAI in order to put an end to any claims against FIFA," FIFA said in a statement. "FIFA granted FAI a loan of $5 million for the construction of a stadium in Ireland. At the same time, UEFA also granted the FAI funds for the same stadium."
"The terms agreed between FIFA and the FAI were that the loan would be reimbursed if Ireland qualified for the 2014 FIFA World Cup," the FIFA statement said. "Ireland did not so qualify. Because of this, and in view of the FAI's financial situation, FIFA decided to write off the loan as per 31 December 2014."
The FAI responded to the FIFA statement, calling the payment a "legal settlement agreement" rather than a loan and saying it was 5 million euros, not 5 million dollars, as FIFA said.