FIFA warns scandal-hit Oceania: Clean-up ‘vital for survival’


ZURICH: FIFA warned the scandal-scarred Oceania Football Confederation on Saturday that it was on its “last opportunity” to clean up its act.

The message was personally delivered by Gianni Infantino, the president of world football’s governing body, while in New Zealand to attend an OFC Congress to elect a new president.

“It’s vital that OFC turns the page. It’s vital for the survival of football in this part of the world,” Infantino told reporters, adding he had emphasised the point in his address to the Congress.

The strict message came just days after FIFA slapped a three-month ban on OFC vice-president and FIFA Council member Lee Harmon following an investigation into the resale of tickets at last year’s World Cup in Russia.

The previous week, FIFA suspended former Oceania president David Chung for six years for corruption related to an NZ$15 million (US$10 million) OFC building project in Auckland.

They were the latest in a series of scandals to hit Oceania, which is made up largely of small Pacific island nations and is the smallest and weakest of FIFA’s six continental confederations.

“If there is still somebody in Oceania who is involved in football in any capacity, who has not realised yet that the time of abusing football for personal gain is over, then we can really not help it any more,” Infantino said.

“But I’m sure from what I’ve heard, from what I’ve seen, that the message has definitely passed because this is really the last opportunity for Oceania.”

The confederation has a long history of governance problems, although new president, Lambert Matlock of Vanuatu, said they had been addressed in “immense reforms” since Chung’s resignation last year.

“We believe we are now on the right path to ensuring ethical breaches like those of the former president cannot be repeated,” he said.

Chung’s predecessor, Reynald Temarii of Tahiti, was forced out in 2010 after being implicated in a vote-selling scandal during an undercover newspaper sting.

In 2017, former Guam FA president Richard Lai, who served on FIFA’s auditing body, was barred from football for life after admitting to accepting almost US$1 million on kickbacks.

Another ex-OFC president, the late Charlie Dempsey of New Zealand, created an uproar in 2000 during the vote to award the 2006 World Cup.

He had been instructed by Oceania to vote for South Africa but abstained from the final ballot, effectively handing the 2006 tournament to Germany.

Reports in German media in 2015 alleged Dempsey, who died in 2008, had been paid US$250,000 on the eve of the vote by a sports marketing firm linked to the German bid.