Sepp Blatter feels sense of ‘liberation’

Sepp Blatter: Election likely in early 2016. Picture: PA
Sepp Blatter: Election likely in early 2016. Picture: PA
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Sepp Blatter says his decision to leave FIFA was “liberating” and he expects the election to replace him will be in early 2016.

In an interview published yesterday, Blatter explained why on 2 June he announced his planned FIFA exit amid American and Swiss investigations of corruption in world football.

“It was the only way to take away the pressure from FIFA and my employees, including [pressure] from the sponsors,” Blatter told his local Walliser Bote newspaper. “To remove FIFA and me personally from the line of fire.”

Asked “hand on heart” if he would renege on his promise to go, he said: “I am not a candidate, but the elected president, and I want to hand over FIFA in good condition.”

That is likely to be next year, he suggested, at a special election congress of FIFA’s 209 member federations in Zurich. He said the “realistic” date was the beginning of 2016, to prepare a four-month election campaign required by FIFA rules and avoid a clash with the Club World Cup. That tournament in Japan is scheduled for 10-20 December.

In his most frank comments yet since his stunning speech on 2 June, the 79-year-old Blatter reflected on the approaching end of his four decades at FIFA and what lies ahead.

“I am not yet having many thoughts about this, and am not worrying,” he said. “The decision to go is definitely liberating. For FIFA and for myself.”

He suggested that his final months will be busy, despite many descriptions of him as a lame-duck leader.

“I am still president of FIFA and fully capable of acting. FIFA and football have been the most important part of my life for 40 years,” Blatter said. “So I will use all my strength and inspiration up to my last working day to steer the ship back into the safe harbour.”

Blatter has pledged to drive through modernising reforms which could be approved at the election congress.

“The key to this is strengthening democracy in the ‘FIFA government’,” he said. “There should not be a redistribution of the places on the executive committee, but an appropriate expansion of the body.”

Blatter said Asia and Africa were not democratically represented on the executive committee he has chaired as president since 1998. The two continents combine for 100 FIFA members yet have only nine of 25 voting seats on the ruling panel.

Further FIFA v UEFA tensions are likely with Europe’s traditional influence in world football under attack.

Blatter won re-election last month despite UEFA president Michel Platini, his former protégé turned adversary, urging him to resign. Their face-to-face meeting followed the day after American and Swiss federal cases hit FIFA and top officials with raids in Zurich for separate investigations of alleged corruption.