Blatter staying defiant

Published: Friday 29th May 2015 by Caroline Stephenson

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FIFA president Sepp Blatter remained defiant in the face of a threatened revolution from UEFA as the shockwaves from its “seismic” corruption scandal continued to rock the football world.

UEFA president Michel Platini declared “enough is enough” and in a face-to-face showdown demanded that Blatter quit – with the European countries set to mount further challenges to the Swiss’ authority if the 79-year-old wins Friday’s election against Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein.

Platini warned all options would be considered – and did not rule out a World Cup boycott – while sponsors turned up the heat on Blatter. Virgin chairman Sir Richard Branson even called on companies to ditch their ties with the world governing body.

It comes after the dawn raid by Swiss police on Wednesday saw seven FIFA officials including Jeffrey Webb, a FIFA vice-president from the Cayman Islands who holds a British passport and fellow vice-president, Eugenio Figueredo from Uruguay. All are challenging extradition to the USA where authorities have indicted 18 people on corruption charges.

Blatter, however, refused to resign and tackled the crisis head on at the FIFA Congress opening ceremony, referring to “unprecedented and difficult times for FIFA” and saying corruption brought “shame and humiliation on football”.

He said: “It must fall to me for the well-being of our organisation to find the way forward to fix things.

“Actions of individuals bring shame and humiliation on football and demand action and change. We cannot allow the reputation of football and FIFA to be dragged through the mud any longer, it has to stop – here and now.

“I know many people hold me ultimately responsible for the actions of the global football community, whether it’s the decision for the hosting of a World Cup or a corruption scandal.

“The next few months will not be easy for FIFA, I’m sure more bad news will follow but it’s necessary to restore trust in our organisation.

“Let this be the turning point. We have lost the trust and we must now earn it back.”

Platini did not rule out the possibility of a World Cup boycott but said UEFA members may follow the example of English FA vice-chairman David Gill, who said he will refuse to serve on FIFA’s executive committee if Blatter is re-elected.

Platini said UEFA would unite behind Prince Ali and when asked if a boycott of FIFA competitions was a possibility, replied: “UEFA associations will meet in Berlin next week. We will be open to all options.”

Pressed further on the prospect of a World Cup boycott, Platini added: “There may be proposals. I honestly don’t wish that.”

Platini confirmed he had personally pleaded with Blatter to quit. He said: “I have had enough – enough is enough, too much is too much. I am the first to be disgusted.”

He also said a minimum of 45 or 46 of UEFA’s 53 voting associations would back Prince Ali but warned Blatter’s decision to stay meant his support was still strong.

FIFA sponsor VISA sounded some alarm bells for Blatter by saying it would reassess its partnership if reforms were not implemented, but there was support for the president from Russian premier Vladimir Putin who criticised the USA for the indictments as “another attempt to de-rail Mr Blatter’s election as FIFA president”.

The US Department of Justice charged 18 people over alleged bribes totalling more than 150 million US dollars (£98 million) paid for television rights, sponsorship deals and World Cup votes, with the payments allegedly transferred using American wire and banking facilities.

In a separate development, the Swiss attorney general also opened criminal proceedings over the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, seized documents and electronic data from FIFA HQ, and police have started questioning the 10 current FIFA ExCo members who voted on that tournament.

Gill, the former Manchester United chief executive who is due to take over as Britain’s FIFA vice-president on Friday, expressed amazement at one of the charges listed in the US justice department indictments, which said that World Cup bribes were channelled via a FIFA bank account.

The 164-page indictment states disgraced former FIFA vice-president Jack Warner agreed a bribe of 10million US dollars with South African bid officials to vote for the 2010 World Cup with the cash transferred via a FIFA bank account in Switzerland, on the authority of an unnamed “high-ranking FIFA official” to an American bank account controlled by Warner.

It added that the money was FIFA “funds that would otherwise have gone from FIFA to South Africa to support the World Cup”.

Gill said: “All I can say that in any organisation I have worked to make a payment of that sort of magnitude would go to the top of the organisation and it would be authorised by more than one person.

“That’s my experience of governance and working in Manchester United and companies before. That’s a big sum of money.”

Published: Friday 29th May 2015 by Caroline Stephenson

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