Blatter defiant as re-election vote looms

29th May 2015, Comments 0 comments

FIFA boss Sepp Blatter headed into a re-election vote Friday adamant that only he can clean up football's corruption-tainted headquarters, to the dismay of many as calls mounted for his resignation.

Blatter opened FIFA's annual congress by saying he could "not monitor everyone all of the time", rejecting blame after a dramatic week that saw several arrests and the opening of criminal investigations.

"The next few months will not be easy for FIFA. I am sure more bad news will follow but it is necessary to begin to restore trust in our organisation," the 79-year-old president said Thursday.

"It must ultimately fall to me to bear the responsibility for the reputation and well-being of our organisation, and to ultimately find a way to move forward and fix things," Blatter added.

He called the scandals "unprecedented" and said the "actions of individuals bring shame and humiliation on football and demand action and change from us all".

Blatter spoke hours after a showdown with European football chief Michel Platini, who called on him to quit despite support for the FIFA chief from Asia and Africa.

Demands for action came also from governments in Europe. British Prime Minister David Cameron backed calls by the English Football Association for Blatter to resign, Cameron's spokesman said.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said that if world football can't clear up "poisonous" corruption, government agencies would be forced to step in.

- 'Sickened' -

Platini said he confronted Blatter at an emergency meeting of the heads of FIFA's six regional confederations.

The UEFA president said he was "sickened" and "disgusted" at the arrests of seven top football officials and a raid by Swiss police on FIFA headquarters as part of a corruption inquiry into the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar respectively.

Those arrested in Zurich are among 14 people accused in a US federal indictment of taking more than $150 million in bribes.

"Today I have come to ask you to quit FIFA, to resign from FIFA, to leave FIFA because its image is bad and we can no longer go on like this," Platini said he told Blatter in front of the other presidents.

Blatter only replied in a private conversation after. "He told me: 'Michel, we know each other well, but it's too late. I cannot leave today when the congress starts this afternoon'."

Blatter remains the favourite to extend his 17-year rule over the world's most popular sport.

Among his supporters, Asian sports officials questioned the timing of the arrests, saying it was suspicious that they came two days before Blatter was due to stand for a new term.

President Vladimir Putin, who hopes to oversee the 2018 World Cup in Russia, slammed the Zurich arrests as a US attempt to oust Blatter.

Platini said that a "very large majority" of the 53 voting European federations would back Prince Ali bin al Hussein of Jordan, the FIFA vice president who is the only challenger to Blatter in the vote.

The US, Canadian and Australian federations said they will also vote for the Jordanian prince, but the support of the numerous football associations in Africa and Asia should see Blatter get back in.

- 'Profound change' -

Australia sought in vain to host the 2022 World Cup, and anger has been growing there over allegations that the bidding was rigged in Qatar's favour.

"FFA believes that profound change within FIFA is needed as soon as possible to address issues of governance and transparency," Football Federation Australia chief Frank Lowy said.

Blatter was not named in the US indictment, and Swiss authorities said there were no immediate plans to question him over the awarding of the next two World Cups to Russia and Qatar.

The seven arrested football officials -- including FIFA vice presidents Jeffrey Webb and Eugenio Figueredo -- remained in custody on Thursday. Six have indicated they will fight extradition to the United States, Swiss authorities said.

The CONCACAF confederation for North and Central America and the Caribbean said it had provisionally dismissed Webb as its president.

An Argentine judge ordered the arrest of three businessmen who were among the 14 people indicted by the United States in its probe.

Brazil said it would investigate with "great vigour" charges against the vice president of the Brazilian Football Confederation and a broadcasting executive also listed on the indictment sheet.

The commercial fallout from the scandal grew with South Korea's Hyundai Motor, a major sponsor of FIFA, saying it was "extremely concerned" about the legal proceedings.

Visa has threatened to "reassess" its sponsorship if FIFA does not clean up the sport. Coca-Cola, Adidas, McDonald's and Budweiser have also spoken out, while the United Nations says it is reviewing its cooperation accords with FIFA.

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© 2015 AFP

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