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After Arrests, Calls For Soccer's Governing Body To Be Overhauled

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And now more on a corruption story that is unfolding across continents. It all began yesterday when top officials in FIFA, the international body governing soccer, were arrested in Switzerland. U.S. authorities accused them of accepting millions of dollars in bribes. Hours after the roundup, FBI director James Comey spoke in New York.

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JAMES COMEY: The game, according to the allegations in this indictment, was hijacked. That field that is so famously flat was made tilted.

GREENE: The accusations of corruption were nothing new, but these arrests came as a big surprise, and NPR's Ari Shapiro gathered reaction from a soccer-crazed continent.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: As big as soccer is in the United States, it is huge in Europe.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Number 17 - Jason Isaacs.

SHAPIRO: It sometimes feels like the entire continent tunes in when there's a big match here. And Europeans watched just as closely yesterday when Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced corruption charges against soccer's top executives.

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ATTORNEY GENERAL LORETTA LYNCH: They were expected to uphold the rules that keep soccer honest and to protect the integrity of the game. Instead, they corrupted the business of worldwide soccer to serve their interests and to enrich themselves.

SHAPIRO: Reaction poured in across the continent. British Sports Minister Tracey Crouch said, quote, "change and reform is urgently needed at the top of FIFA, including its leadership." German Football Association President Wolfgang Niersbach said this is, quote, "shocking and harmful for the world of football." A slightly different response from Russia; President Vladimir Putin accused the U.S. of meddling, trying to take away Russia's World Cup. FIFA spokesman Walter de Gregorio spoke at a last minute press conference.

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WALTER DE GREGORIO: For us, it's a hard time. It's not nice to be here in front of you and try to explain something that is not nice.

SHAPIRO: The controversial president of the organization, Sepp Blatter, was not arrested and kept a low profile yesterday. Spokesman de Gregorio said Blatter is relaxed then he clarified.

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DE GREGORIO: He's not dancing in his office. He's not the kind of a happy man today and saying wow, wow, that's really cool what happens here.

SHAPIRO: For soccer fans, these arrests are disappointing, but hardly surprising. Cobus de Swardt is managing director of Transparency International. His organization has been warning about corruption at FIFA for years.

COBUS DE SWARDT: While they had the opportunity to clean it up from the inside, they refused to do that. And it is rather a big shame and a disappointment to the hundreds of millions of football fans that FIFA's dirty business must now be cleaned up by criminal investigations. It's another slap in our face.

SHAPIRO: This is not the end of this story. FIFA is scheduled to hold new presidential elections on Friday. Sepp Blatter insists he will run for another term, and at the U.S. Department of Justice, the attorney general insists the criminal investigation isn't finished either. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, London.

GREENE: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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