FIFA's PR Boss Steps Down After Corruption Joke

FIFA Communications Director Walter De Gregorio

Walter De Gregorio, the PR face of the FIFA scandal, resigned Thursday, after a cracking wise on Swiss TV.

Just a week after FIFA president Sepp Blatter announced he would be stepping down, amid mounting scandals and an FBI criminal investigation into the world soccer governing body, FIFA's head of communications has also resigned. Over a joke.

Walter De Gregorio has been the public face of FIFA throughout the recent crisis — regularly addressing the media as scandal after scandal broke. But on Monday, the former journalist himself made headlines. Appearing on popular Swiss talk show Schawinski on Monday, De Gregorio was asked to tell his favorite FIFA joke.

“The FIFA president, secretary general and communications director are in a car,” De Gregorio said. “Who's driving? The police.”

The 10-second joke was at the end of a wide-ranging half-hour interview but apparently it proved too much. Three days later, De Gregorio announced he had decided “to relinquish his office with immediate effect as director of communications and public affairs.”

Much like his boss Blatter, who will remain president until FIFA votes for a replacement, De Gregorio will remain as a consultant with the organization until the end of the year. His deputy Nicolas Maingot will take over his role on an interim basis.

FIFA president Blatter and general secretary Jerome Valcke have not been named in the FBI investigation nor in a separate inquiry into FIFA initiated by the Swiss Department of Justice. But Valcke has been linked to a $10 million payment — allegedly a bribe — paid by South Africa to a FIFA executive ahead of the country's successful bid to host the soccer World Cup in 2010.

De Gregorio's announcement is the latest twist in what has been an ever-unfolding scandal engulfing FIFA. The crisis broke two and a half weeks ago with a early-morning raid in Zurich and has continued, with allegation after allegation painting a picture of endemic corruption. 

FIFA on Thursday confirmed that it will hold an extraordinary executive committee meeting on July 20 to set the date for the presidential election to replace Blatter. The extraordinary elective congress will be held between December of this year and February 2016.

Blatter was re-elected to a fifth term as FIFA president on May 29, just two days after the FBI raid in Zurich in which several FIFA executives were arrested. At the time, De Gregorio said the investigations were good for FIFA. “It is not good in terms of image or reputation but in terms of cleaning up, this is good. It is not a nice day but it is also a good day. The process goes on and we are looking forward,” he told the media at a press conference right after the arrests.

The FBI has said it is extending its investigation into FIFA corruption to the bidding for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, which were controversially granted to Russia and Qatar.

On Thursday the European parliament called on Blatter to stand down immediately and not wait for new elections and it urged the EU member to cooperate fully with the criminal investigations into FIFA.