FIFA Paid Millions to Ireland to Avoid Legal Action Over 2010 World Cup

Ireland's Sean St Ledger and Damien Duff react after their loss to France in their World Cup qualifying playoff return leg match at the Stade de France stadium on November 18, 2009. Benoit Tessier/Reuters

FIFA reportedly paid more than $7 million to soccer authorities in Ireland for a secret agreement not to sue over the country's controversial elimination from the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. The news on Thursday comes amid a worldwide scandal in which many of the soccer organization's top leaders are accused of engaging in corrupt activities for more than two decades.

The payment, deemed a "loan" by FIFA, originated from a playoff game in November 2009 between Ireland and France. The two countries tied in qualifying for a place in the 2010 World Cup final round. France won the playoff game, but team captain Thierry Henry later admitted he illegally played the ball with his hands in the buildup to his team's winning goal. The final score was 2-1.

In an interview Thursday night, Football Association of Ireland (FAI) Chief Executive John Delaney said the group had legal grounds to sue FIFA. But, he added, the $7.3 million—the equivalent of 5 million euros—was "a very good agreement for the FAI and a very legitimate agreement for the FAI."

FIFA on Thursday acknowledged the payment but claimed the money was for the construction of a stadium in Ireland, according to media reports. The organization reportedly paid FAI the millions of dollars in January 2010.

FIFA currently is embroiled in a worldwide controversy, as 14 of its top officials are facing federal corruption charges brought by the U.S. government. Its president, Sepp Blatter, earlier this week resigned, and former FIFA executives are coming forward with information previously kept secret for years.

The soccer organization also faces a criminal investigation by Swiss authorities over bidding for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups in Russia and Qatar, respectively.