Following the guilty plea by former Costa Rican Football Federation (FEDEFUTBOL) president Eduardo Li as part of the ongoing FIFA corruption case, the federation has been trying to play damage control back home.
Prosecutors at the U.S. District Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of New York, where Li’s case is being heard, claim that one of the major bribes that occurred under Li’s watch took place when the 57-year-old requested and accepted a $500,000 bribe from a U.S. sports apparel company. Though the company remains unnamed in the indictment, New Balance took over as the official outfitter for La Sele when Li announced the deal at a 2015 press conference.
Last week, current FEDEFUTBOL president Rodolfo Villalobos said the federation met with officials from New Balance and Li’s lawyer Róger Guevara. At the meeting, New Balance officials denied ever giving Li a bribe to win a contract for Costa Rica football.
“New Balance has a long history of ethical and fair play across all of our global business operations and we do not tolerate any corrupt activities,” read an official statement from the company.
Villalobos, who was the treasurer of FEDEFUTBOL at the time of the initial deal, said the agreement seemed extremely beneficial to Costa Rica. He added that the federation had little to do with the apparel deal because it was ironed out between New Balance and former contract holder Lotto.
“Eduardo Li made a mess of Costa Rican football and I’m here to clean it up,” Villalobos said at a press conference last week.
This week, pictures of new uniforms surfaced on social media. The kits, which feature the New Balance logo and a red base with white rays coming across the chest, are a stark contrast from the more classic-looking shirts Costa Rica has sported since New Balance’s takeover.
According to TD Más, FEDEFUTBOL president Rodolfo Villalobos confirmed Tuesday that these new jerseys are indeed La Sele’s next uniforms. They will officially be unveiled in early November.
Since FEDEFUTBOL officials have said they will not comment any further on the issue, it remains unclear why the federation would decide to change its teams’ uniforms now, amid controversy regarding the apparel contract, without changing their supplier.
The shirts will be worn for the next stage of World Cup qualifying, which begins Nov. 11 at Trinidad & Tobago and resumes at home against the United States four days later.
On Tuesday night, the federation announced that tickets for the World Cup qualifier game against the United States at National Stadium on Nov. 15 sold out in less than seven hours.
Meanwhile, back in New York, a judge ruled that Li can move from his house arrest in New York to Miami, where he will be allowed to move around the city from 8 am-10 pm and work in a family business, according to AFP.