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World Cup 2026 bidding put on hold amid US corruption investigation

FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke said Wednesday it would be 'nonsense' to begin the next bidding process on schedule this week amid the American investigation into soccer corruption.

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    FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke speaks as he attends a news conference during his visit to the southern city of Samara, one of the 2018 World Cup host cities, Russia, June 10, 2015. FIFA will postpone the start of bidding for the right to host the 2026 World Cup following the launch of a corruption investigation, a senior official in soccer's governing body said on Wednesday.
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On another day of turmoil for FIFA and the World Cup, the bidding contest for the 2026 tournament was put on hold.

FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke said Wednesday it would be "nonsense" to begin the next bidding process on schedule this week amid the American investigation into soccer corruption.

Valcke, speaking at a news conference in Russia hosted by organizers of the 2018 tournament, also defended his role in a $10 million bribery scandal linked to the 2010 World Cup.

"I will answer all the questions. I have nothing to hide," Valcke said.

While Valcke spoke in Samara, his staff in Zurich gave more evidence to Swiss authorities for a separate investigation into the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bid contests won by Russia and Qatar, respectively.

"FIFA handed over seized IT data," the Swiss attorney general's office said in a statement.

Two weeks ago it raided FIFA offices and opened "criminal proceedings against persons unknown on suspicion of criminal mismanagement and of money laundering."

The storm unleashed by separate U.S. and Swiss federal investigations has already further sullied FIFA's image and led to the announced resignation of its president, Sepp Blatter. He is not a suspect for Swiss authorities but is a target of the American case.

The favorite to succeed Blatter, former protege turned adversary Michel Platini, criticized soccer's governing body later Wednesday while also welcoming a delay in 2026 business.

"Today there is no leadership at FIFA so it's normal that it's been suspended," the UEFA president and former France great said at a news conference in Paris which overlapped with Valcke's in Russia.

The United States is among the expected contenders in the May 2017 vote.

FIFA also said Wednesday its executive committee will meet to choose an election date in a special session next month — possibly July 24 in St. Petersburg, where Swiss and American investigators won't get the chance to ask questions. The 209 FIFA member federations will vote in Zurich for a new president four months after a deadline set for would-be candidates to apply.

Blatter's prolonged departure is "not doing himself and the whole of football a favor," said Wolfgang Niersbach of Germany, who is on the executive committee.

FIFA has been in crisis since the U.S. Department of Justice indicted 14 people on corruption charges ahead of Blatter's re-election at the FIFA congress two weeks ago. Seven of them were arrested in Zurich and face extradition.

One of the seven has appealed for bail, but Swiss authorities did not identify which one. The Federal Criminal Court will rule on whether he will remain in custody, authorities said Wednesday in a statement.

Although Blatter was not named in a 164-page indictment — which alleged $150 million in bribes linked mostly to non-FIFA tournaments in North and South America — officials familiar with the case have said he is a target.

Valcke, however, has been scrutinized for his direct links to payments totaling $10 million from FIFA accounts which the U.S. Department of Justice says were bribes to FIFA executive committee members to vote for South Africa as 2010 World Cup host.

In an impassioned voice Wednesday, Valcke repeated previous FIFA statements on his behalf: That he merely signed off on money transfers agreed to by South African officials from their World Cup funds, and authorized by the then-chairman of the FIFA finance panel, Julio Grondona of Argentina, who died last year.

"I'm signing all the contracts of FIFA," said Valcke, who began his job several months before the money transfers in early 2008 to accounts controlled by disgraced former FIFA vice president Jack Warner of Trinidad and Tobago.

Valcke insisted that the alleged bribe money did not belong to FIFA and questioned why he was targeted by international media.

"You have decided that after Blatter, my head is to be cut. Fine," said the former television journalist from France. "But don't say it is because of this $10 million."

Valcke and Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko, who is also a FIFA executive committee member, repeated that the 2018 hosting victory was won cleanly.

The Swiss attorney general's office is using a report by former FIFA ethics prosecutor Michael Garcia. His investigation team was denied key evidence because Russian bid officials did not provide an archive of emails, and also used computers which were leased and later destroyed.

Both Russia and Qatar risk losing their hosting rights if evidence of wrongdoing emerges.

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