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Argentinian great Diego Maradona on FIFA scandal: 'I told you so'

Maradona on May 4, 2015 at the King Hussein convention centre, Dead Sea, Jordan.

Maradona on May 4, 2015 at the King Hussein convention centre, Dead Sea, Jordan.  (2015 Getty Images)

Former soccer great Diego Maradona says that for years he has said FIFA was corrupt but that he wasn't taken seriously.

"I was treated like a crazy person," Maradona told radio station Radio La Red in Buenos Aires. "Now the FBI has told the truth."

The Argentinian soccer star spoke hours after Swiss federal prosecutors opened criminal proceedings related to the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

Earlier in the day, seven soccer officials were arrested and 14 indicted in a separate U.S. corruption probe.

"There is no soccer. There is no transparency. Enough lying to people and dinner parties to re-elect Blatter," he said, speaking about Friday's vote on whether FIFA President Sepp Blatter will get elected to a fifth term.

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He said FIFA has billions of dollars while there are players in the world "who don't make $150,000."

"The money spent on that should be used to give kids in Africa a soccer field," he said.

Meanwhile, FIFA's sponsorship paymasters are facing mounting calls to put pressure on soccer's global governing body to clean up its act — and fast — following Wednesday's events.

Companies like Coca-Cola, Visa and Adidas have in recent months shown a growing willingness to voice their concerns publicly about FIFA's string of scandals, which have spanned from past allegations of corruption to the abuse of laborers building World Cup venues in Qatar.

"If you are putting many, many millions of euros into a business, then you definitely have a right and responsibility to demand that you are not tainted," said Cobus de Swardt, the managing director of campaigning group Transparency International.

De Swardt said Wednesday's developments should act as a "wake-up call" for everyone involved with FIFA, including the companies themselves, to push for big changes to the governing body's structures and practices. To start with, he said Friday's FIFA presidential election should be postponed and the current leader, Sepp Blatter, should be urged not to run again.

"FIFA needs a new start," said de Swardt. "These scandals have taken place under Sepp Blatter's watch."

The range of companies involved more or less directly with FIFA and the soccer world is large.

FIFA's partners, which are companies that support the soccer body through long-term contracts, include Adidas, Coca-Cola, Visa, Gazprom and Hyundai/KIA Motors. They have the right to use official FIFA trademarks in their advertising campaigns, exposure in and around stadiums and protection against ambush marketing.

There are second-tier sponsors, too, such as Budweiser and McDonald's, who pay to be involved during and around the World Cup tournaments themselves.

Beyond those corporations, there are companies that make deals with national soccer associations. Nike, for example, pays to have the Brazilian national team wear its shirts.

Though Nike was not referenced in the Department of Justice indictment, a "multinational sportswear company headquartered in the United States" is mentioned with regard to bribery allegations involving Brazil.

Without directly referencing the speculation that it is the multinational company, Nike said it was concerned by the "very serious allegations" and was cooperating with authorities.

"Nike believes in ethical and fair play in both business and sport and strongly opposes any form of manipulation or bribery," it said.

Based on reporting by the Associated Press.

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