THE head of world football’s governing body has defied a growing chorus calling for his resignation and insisted he is best placed to rescue the beleaguered organisation from a deepening corruption scandal.
Sepp Blatter incurred the wrath of political and sporting leaders by confirming his desire to remain at the helm of Fifa for a fifth term after a presidential election due to take place on Friday.
A day after twin US and Swiss investigations into widespread bribery and corruption among senior officials plunged Fifa into unprecedented crisis, the 79-year-old sought to distance himself from the “actions of a few” and said it now fell to him to restore trust and “find the way forward to fix things”.
The Scottish Football Association strengthened its stance in calling for Blatter to step down.
Chief executive Stewart Regan called for immediate change while laying out a “number of options” should Blatter be re-elected – including the creation of a rival body to Fifa and potential Uefa threats to boycott competitions. Victory for Mr Blatter in tomorrow’s election threatens to damage the sport’s governance and the future of its most famous tournament.
The head of Uefa today refused to rule out the prospect of European nations boycotting the World Cup if Mr Blatter is restored to power in the face of the biggest corruption scandal in Fifa’s 101-year history.
Speaking at the opening ceremony of Fifa’s congress, held less than 36 hours after seven senior officials were arrested as part of a four-year US investigation, the Swiss refused to accept responsibility for what US prosecutors described as “rampant, systemic, deep-rooted” corruption at the Zurich-based organisation. In his first public appearance since the arrests, Mr Blatter told delegates: “I know many people hold me ultimately responsible for the action and reputation for the global football community, whether it is a decision for the hosting of a World Cup or a corruption scandal I cannot monitor everyone all of the time – if people want to do wrong, they will also try to hide it.”
Mr Blatter said Fifa was going through “unprecedented and difficult times” in which the actions of individuals had brought “shame and humiliation on football”. But in a refrain familiar to Fifa observers, he stressed the governing body would seek to put its own house in order.
“Let this be the turning point,” he said. “We have lost the trust and we must now earn it back. It must fall to me for the wellbeing of our organisation to find the way forward to fix things.”
His remarks look set to cause further discord across the global football community, with Uefa president Michel Platini admitting that drastic action could be taken if Mr Blatter defeats his only challenger – Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein of Jordan – to remain in Fifa’s most senior office.
We have lost the trust and we must now earn it back. It must fall to me for the wellbeing of our organisation to find the way forward to fix thingsSepp Blatter
Asked about a potential snub of Fifa competitions, the former French international said: “Uefa associations will meet in Berlin next week. We will be open to all options.”
Mr Platini said he personally pleaded with Mr Blatter to resign yesterday ahead of the leadership elections, but to no avail.
He said: “I asked him for a face-to-face meeting, and I said, ‘Look Sepp, we started at Fifa in 1998, and for the future of Fifa, I am here to ask you to leave, to resign’. I speak like a friend with him. He said it was too late.”
The US Department of Justice has indicted 14 people over alleged bribes totalling more than £98m paid for TV rights, sponsorship deals and World Cup votes, with payments allegedly transfered using US wire and banking facilities.
In a separate development, the Swiss attorney general opened criminal proceedings over the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar. Ten Fifa executive committee members involved in voting will be questioned.
Prime Minister David Cameron is among those who have backed calls for Mr Blatter to quit after the arrests of the officials – including two Fifa vice-presidents – on bribery, fraud and money laundering charges.
Culture Secretary John Whittingdale called for Mr Blatter to step down, saying big sponsors should follow Visa and review links with Fifa. The Prime Minister’s spokesman said: “I associated the Prime Minister in full with what John Whittingdale was saying. The responsibility with regard to football administration is for football administrators but the FA – and we are squarely behind the FA – supports Prince Ali’s candidacy.”
All eyes will now turn to Friday’s elections. Mr Platini believes around 45 or 46 of his 53 members will vote for Prince Ali, but Blatter has historically been able to count upon influential voting blocs away from the traditional footballing powerhouses of Europe and South America. Support for the embattled Swiss bureaucrat came from Russian president Vladimir Putin, who said the US is meddling in Fifa’s affairs in a bid to take the 2018 World Cup away from Russia.