Fifa: Jerome Valcke suspension brings further scrutiny

Jerome Valcke
Jerome Valcke has been Fifa's secretary general since 2007

Air traffic controllers observed a curious sight on their screens on Thursday.

A private jet carrying Jerome Valcke, Fifa's secretary general, should have completed its journey to Moscow.

Fifa president Sepp Blatter's loyal lieutenant was due there to help Russia mark 1,000 days until the start of its World Cup in 2018.

Instead, at some stage on its journey across Eastern Europe, the plane turned around and headed back to its departure point of Zurich.

Awaiting Valcke on arrival was the news he had been immediately suspended from his duties, put on leave and a formal investigation into his conduct was under way.

Blatter had spent part of Thursday trying to reach the heads of football's regional confederations - including Uefa's Michel Platini - to advise them Valcke would be suspended.

He is said to have received overwhelming support.

It is quite an ignominious end for Valcke, who has steered Fifa through some of its biggest logistical and political problems in recent years.

At face value, the reason for Valcke's sudden departure appears to stem from allegations, which emerged on Thursday, of wrongdoing in connection with the sale of Brazil World Cup tickets.

Jerome Valcke & Sepp Blatter
Valcke (pictured with president Sepp Blatter) has been responsible for overseeing Fifa's commercial contracts and its showpiece tournaments

Valcke's lawyer, Barry Berke, has called the claims "fabricated and outrageous".

Fifa's ethics committee must now conduct an inquiry and deliver answers.

But there is a key phrase in Fifa's short statement: "Fifa has been made aware of a series of allegations…"

"Series" potentially speaks of the increasing pressure Valcke has been under since the US indictment against a number of football officials was revealed in May.

He has consistently denied any wrongdoing or involvement over allegations South Africa paid a $10m (£6.5m) bribe to former Fifa powerbroker Jack Warner.

The organisation's finance committee sanctioned the payment, which was transferred via a Fifa account after being taken from South Africa's World Cup organisation budget.

Correspondence shows Valcke was, at the very least, aware of the payment which was made, in theory, as part of an African diaspora football development fund for the Caribbean.

A BBC investigation has revealed Warner in fact siphoned off the money for his own purposes.

In June, Fifa insisted in a statement that Valcke - nor any other member of Fifa's senior management - was involved "in the initiation, approval and implementation" of the fund.

Fifa, and Valcke, have managed to stagger on through the summer.

More on Fifa's corruption crisis
Fifa corruption crisis: Key questions answeredHow Fifa makes and spends its money
Who are the indicted Fifa officials?Fifa deputy Valcke denies payments

Blatter got on the front foot last month, telling me in an interview the "institution" of Fifa is not corrupt and the fault for its woes lay with errant individuals.

A complex reform process is also under way, designed to restore credibility to its governance and reputation.

It's off to a shaky start, with an update due to be delivered next week at Fifa's scheduled executive committee meeting.

However, with the US attorney general making it clear on Monday that her department's investigations into world football are far from over, the pressure is on Fifa to deliver on its promises.

Loretta Lynch states individual and "entities" could face further action.

Perception is therefore everything right now for Fifa.

And having a secretary general embroiled in a ticket scandal and facing persistent questions over the South Africa issue is not the image the governing body needs to present.

The bigger fear for Fifa concerned potential future allegations. In essence, what didn't they know about Valcke's activities?

Would there be further accusations in the coming days or weeks? And what damage would that do the organisation?

The decision was taken that Valcke had to be cut loose - an extraordinary act given how reluctant Fifa has been in the past to move against its executives.

But then these are unprecedented times for Fifa.

If it is to move on from this crisis then key voices within the organisation believe decisive action must be taken - even if it means ordering a private jet to turn around mid-flight.