ZURICH: FIFA president Sepp Blatter headed into a re-election vote on Friday (Saturday in Manila) adamant that only he can clean up the world’s most popular sport, to the dismay of critics who want to issue a red card to his 17-year rule.
The boss of football’s governing organization brazened it out after governments joined leading figures of the global game along with deep-pocketed sponsors in crying foul over FIFA’s corruption scandal.
British Prime Minister David Cameron backed calls for Blatter to resign, while French President Francois Hollande said sports groups selecting the hosts of major events must be “irreproachable”.
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.
The commercial fallout grew with South Korea’s Hyundai Motor, a major sponsor of FIFA, saying it was “extremely concerned” after this week’s arrests and start of criminal probes implicating the football body.
Credit card giant Visa has threatened to “reassess” its sponsorship if FIFA does not clean up its act. Coca-Cola, Adidas, McDonald’s and Budweiser have also spoken out, while the United Nations says it is reviewing its cooperation accords with FIFA.
But Blatter has survived scandal before and looked set for a fifth term in Friday’s vote, backed by African and Asian allies, despite the criminal investigations underway in the United States and Switzerland.
Blatter opened FIFA’s annual congress on Thursday (Friday in Manila) by saying he could “not monitor everyone all of the time”, shrugging off blame after the dramatic arrests in Switzerland at the behest of US prosecutors.
“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 organization,” the 79-year-old president said.
“It must ultimately fall to me to bear the responsibility for the reputation and well-being of our organization, 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 professed himself “sickened” and “disgusted”, and called on him to quit for the good of the game.
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’.”
Seven top football officials were arrested and Swiss police raided FIFA headquarters Wednesday as part of an inquiry into the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar respectively.
Those arrested in Zurich were among 14 people accused in a US federal indictment of taking more than $150 million in bribes.
Platini said 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.
“We cannot continue with the crisis in FIFA,” Prince Ali said this week.
The US, Canadian and Australian federations said they would also vote for the Jordanian royal, but the support of the numerous football associations in Africa and Asia should see Blatter get back in.
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.
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 vigor” charges against the vice president of the Brazilian Football Confederation and a broadcasting executive also listed on the indictment sheet.