FIFA-linked ticket vendor arrested in World Cup scalping investigation

Rio police arrest Ray Whelan (l.) over his suspected involvement in World Cup ticket scalping.STRINGER/BRAZIL/REUTERS Rio police arrest Ray Whelan (l.) over his suspected involvement in World Cup ticket scalping.

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — The company that has been implicated in a ticket scalping investigation at the World Cup has been an intimate member of FIFA’s family for more than 20 years.

Managed in England by Mexican brothers Jaime and Enrique Byrom, the MATCH group of companies has won a series of FIFA contracts to run ticketing, travel, accommodation and technology services at the World Cup since 1994. It also operates Ryder Cup hospitality.

Ray Whelan, who was arrested on Monday by Rio de Janeiro police investigating suspected illegal ticket sales, is a longstanding director and project manager within the MATCH group.

When the police probe was revealed last week, Enrique Byrom told The Associated Press he would “nail him” if one of his own men was involved.

The Rio case implicated the MATCH Hospitality subsidiary, which has exclusive rights to sell and market World Cup corporate ticket packages.

In 2007, MATCH Hospitality agreed to pay FIFA $240 million for a two-tournament deal: the 2010 World Cup South Africa and 2014 in Brazil.

The first event — testing the firm’s ability to sell a luxury product during a global economic downturn — was a heavy loss maker for shareholders. They include Switzerland-based sports agency Infront, whose president and chief executive is Philippe Blatter, a nephew of the FIFA President.

In Johannesburg four years ago, Jaime Byrom was bullish about MATCH Hospitality’s prospects to recoup the initial loss and return an overall profit.

The company said in 2012 it had already made enough corporate sales to guarantee a profit.

By then, FIFA had awarded MATCH Hospitality exclusive rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups in Russia and Qatar, respectively.

It is unclear if that deal, for an undisclosed amount, could be voided in the fallout of an embarrassing episode which unfolded Monday inside FIFA’s chosen five-star hotel base in Rio de Janeiro.

Guests staying at the Copacabana Palace on Monday included FIFA President Sepp Blatter, his fellow IOC member Prince Albert of Monaco, and MATCH executives including the Byroms and Whelan.

The Byroms’ work at the World Cup started in 1986, at the tournament staged in their native Mexico. The brothers operated as independent tour operators there and in Italy four years later.

By 1994 in the United States, they were running FIFA’s official accommodation agency.

For the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, MATCH and FIFA had stepped up an aggressive fight to tackle black-market ticket operations. It persuaded the host nation’s government to pass tighter laws granting powers of arrest which kept some persistent competitors away.

In an interview with the AP in Johannesburg, Jaime Byrom talked with more passion about that victory over a perceived threat to his business then about football.

Last week, Enrique Byrom suggested to the AP that MATCH and FIFA had asked police to arrest around 30 people they believed were scalping tickets within hotels used by football officials.

Still, Rio police said its Operation Jules Rimet — which resulted in 11 arrests last week and Whelan’s detention — was run without FIFA’s knowledge and cooperation. Officers suggested that the suspected scalping ring was being helped by someone with influence at FIFA.

The key arrest last week was Algerian national Mohamadou Lamine Fofana, whom Enrique Byrom said had been a recognized figure for a few World Cups.

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