Sepp Blatter, the president of world soccer’s governing body FIFA, is to press ahead with his bid for a fifth term, resisting calls for him to step aside in the wake of the corruption crisis gripping the organization.
UEFA, European soccer’s governing body, yesterday ruled out seeking a postponement of the election and will instead back Blatter’s challenger, Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan.
After a series crisis meetings at FIFA headquarters with representatives of the six regional soccer confederations, Blatter resolved to ride out the scandal. He rejected a face-to-face appeal from UEFA president Michel Platini for his resignation.
Blatter’s determination to press ahead with the vote comes despite pressure from major sponsors, who have expressed concern about the corruption scandal that has engulfed FIFA this week.
The British government called on Blatter to quit, but Russian President Vladimir Putin denounced the US-led investigation that led to the arrest of FIFA officials in a dawn raid on their hotel in Zurich on Wednesday.
In total nine serving and former officials and five sports media and promotions executives were charged over bribes totaling more than US$150 million allegedly made over 24 years. A separate Swiss investigation has been launched into the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments.
Following a meeting of all 54 UEFA members yesterday, it emerged that former Manchester United chief executive David Gill has vowed to relinquish his seat as vice president of FIFA if Blatter wins today’s election.
Gill, a board member of UEFA and the Football Association, was applauded when he said he would not take up the seat he was due to inherit from Jim Boyce after today’s FIFA Congress.
Platini, who had earlier met Blatter to ask him to stand down in the wake of Wednesday’s arrests, told delegates the confederation needed to unite in support of Blatter’s challenger, al-Hussein.
Most of UEFA’s members will back al-Hussein in today’s election, though some, including Russia and Spain, will remain staunch backers of the incumbent.
Al-Hussein is understood to have told the UEFA delegates that he believed he had the support of more than 60 associations outside Europe, which would give him more than enough backing to take the contest to a second round. Ali or Blatter would need a two-thirds majority of the 209 votes to win in the first round and a simple majority thereafter.
One UEFA source said that when Platini, a former supporter of Blatter, personally asked the president to stand down he told him that he would not, but that he might have considered it if he had been asked earlier.
Michael van Praag, the Dutch FA president who stood down from the race to succeed Blatter last week before Wednesday’s arrests, said UEFA had decided against a boycott of the vote because that would guarantee Blatter a victory.
John Delaney, chief executive of the Football Association of Ireland, said: “David Gill stood up and said he won’t take up his seat — that was the big thing. I think it was very brave and very honest of him, and there was a good round of applause. People thought: ‘That’s a man of honor.’”
“From his own personal perspective he doesn’t want to serve under Blatter and you have to respect that position. There wasn’t a vote taken, but Michel Platini will tell you UEFA is unified. Whether all 53 transfer their votes over I don’t know — I think one or two will be lost along the way,” he said.
In London, British Culture, Media and Sport Secretary John Whittingdale called on Blatter to quit, saying the “deeply flawed and corrupt organization” needed a change of leadership.
Speaking on Russian television, Putin said that the whole affair “looks very strange,” suggesting that it had been engineered by the US to block Blatter’s re-election.
“They are accused of corruption — who is? International officials. I suppose that someone broke some rules, I don’t know, but definitely it’s got nothing to do with the USA. Those officials are not US citizens. If something happened it was not in the US and it’s nothing to do with them,” Putin said. “It’s another clear attempt by the USA to spread its jurisdiction to other states and I have no doubt — it’s a clear attempt not to allow Mr Blatter to be re-elected as president of FIFA, which is a great violation of the operating principles of international organizations.”
FIFA sponsors including Adidas, Visa and Coca-Cola are calling for the body to reform its practices.
Visa issued a statement on Wednesday expressing its “disappointment and concern with FIFA.”
It said that unless the organization rebuilds a corporate culture with “strong ethical practices” at its heart, “we have informed them that we will reassess our sponsorship.”
The credit card company’s contract with FIFA is worth at least US$25 million a year.
“This lengthy controversy has tarnished the mission and ideals of the FIFA World Cup and we have repeatedly expressed our concerns about these serious allegations,” Coca-Cola said.
South Korean firm Hyundai Motor Co, the sole Asian FIFA partner for the 2018 World Cup to be held in Russia, said it was extremely concerned.
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