FIFA executives Jack Warner, left, and Mohamed bin Hammam. (Shirley Bahadur / Associated…)
Two of international soccer's most influential figures, Jack Warner of Trinidad and Tobago and Mohamed Bin Hammam of Qatar, on Sunday were provisionally suspended from the sport while a more in-depth inquiry is conducted into bribery allegations made against them.
Warner, 68, is a FIFA vice president and has been president of soccer's North and Central American and Caribbean (CONCACAF) region for the last 21 years.
Bin Hammam, 62, is president of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and, until he withdrew Sunday morning, was running against incumbent Joseph "Sepp" Blatter in Wednesday's FIFA presidential election.
That election will go ahead, but with Blatter, 75, as the only candidate. He is expected to be rubber-stamped for a fourth term when FIFA's 208 member nations vote in Zurich.
Sunday's developments were the latest in a continuing saga that threatens to either unravel or reform scandal-ridden FIFA, international soccer's ruling body.
"We are satisfied that there is a case to be answered," by Warner and Bin Hammam, said Petrus Damaseb, the Namibian deputy chairman of FIFA's ethics committee after a daylong examination of the evidence in Zurich.
The committee also suspended two Caribbean Football Union (CFU) officials, Debbie Minguell and Jason Sylvester.
At the center of the storm were allegations made by American FIFA executive committee member Chuck Blazer of New York, who claimed that sums of up to $40,000 were paid to CFU officials by Bin Hammam at a meeting in Port of Spain, Trinidad, earlier this month.
Warner apparently facilitated that meeting after Bin Hammam was unable to obtain a visa to enter the U.S. to attend an earlier CONCACAF summit in Miami to plead his presidential case to delegates.
Bin Hammam, who had a key in Qatar being awarded the 2022 World Cup at the expense of the U.S. and other contenders, has since claimed that there was a "conspiracy" against him and that Blatter had known about the payments, which allegedly were to cover the expenses of CFU officials attending the meeting.
But the offer of money, which was refused by some, was instead viewed as an attempt to buy votes, and FIFA's ethics committee said it would probe deeper into the matter, while at the same time clearing Blatter of any involvement.
In withdrawing from the presidential race, Bin Hammam said he was doing so to keep the scandal from further harming FIFA.
"It saddens me that standing up for the causes that I believed in has come at a great price — the degradation of FIFA's reputation," he said in a prepared statement. "This is not what I had in mind for FIFA and this is unacceptable."
Within the last year, 10 current or former members of FIFA's 24-man executive committee have been implicated in various cash-for-votes scandals, many of them centering on the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments to Russia and Qatar, respectively.
This has led to widespread calls for FIFA to either be cleaned up or replaced as the sport's governing entity. On Sunday, Canadian Dick Pound, a former vice president of the International Olympic Committee, said leading soccer countries could conceivably break away and form a new organization.
"If FIFA is not going to do the game any good, the game may have to do something to FIFA," Pound told the BBC.
Blatter, meanwhile, Sunday expressed "regret" at recent developments and admitted that "FIFA's image has suffered a great deal."