Published: Friday 29th May 2015 by Caroline Stephenson
Fifa president Sepp Blatter will stand for re-election today against a backdrop of uncertainty following the FBI investigation into long-standing corruption.
A host of football leaders and pundits from across Europe have called for Mr Blatter to either resign or be voted out after Swiss police carried out a dawn raid on Wednesday and arrested seven officials.
They included Jeffrey Webb, a Fifa vice-president from the Cayman Islands who holds a British passport, and fellow vice-president, Eugenio Figueredo from Uruguay.
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 transfered 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’s headquarters, and will question 10 current Fifa executive committee members who voted on that tournament.
But Mr Blatter will press ahead with his attempt to win a fifth term in today’s election. His rival is Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein, who was elected Fifa vice-president for Asia in 2011.
Following mounting calls for him to step aside following the scandal, he insisted he “cannot monitor everyone all of the time”.
Speaking on stage at the opening ceremony of Fifa’s annual congress meeting in Zurich, he said: “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.</p>
“But it must fall to me to bear responsibility for the reputation and well-being of our organisation and to find a way forward to fix things.
“I will not allow the actions of a few to destroy the hard work and the integrity of the vast majority of those who work so hard for football.
“I must stress that those who are corrupt in football are in the minority, like in society, but like in society they must be caught and held responsible for their actions.”
His voice shook as he described the events of the last two days as an “unprecedented and difficult time for Fifa” and insisted corruption would be rooted out from “top to bottom”.
Mr Blatter said: “There can be no place for corruption of any kind. The next few months will not be easy for Fifa, I’m sure more bad news may follow, but it is necessary to begin to restore trust in our organisation.
“Let this be the turning point, more needs to be done to make sure everyone in football behaves responsibly and ethically and everywhere, also outside of the field of play, where there is no referee, no boundaries and no time limit.”
His public appearance came after the head of Uefa said he personally pleaded with Mr Blatter today to give up his position ahead of the leadership elections.
Speaking at a press conference, Michel Platini also suggested he is open to the possibility of a World Cup boycott if the election rules in favour of Mr Blatter, who is seeking a fifth term.
“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’,” he said.
“I speak like a friend with him. He said it was too late.”
Asked about a potential snub of Fifa competitions, Mr Platini said: “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, Mr Platini added: “There may be proposals. I honestly don’t wish that.”
Prime Minister David Cameron, Culture Secretary John Whittingdale and the head of the Football Association Greg Dyke have joined calls for Mr Blatter to step down, while sponsors have demanded urgent action to restore Fifa’s tattered reputation.
England manager Roy Hodgson described the events as “disturbing”.
He said: ” Whenever clear signs of corruption have taken place at the very highest level, how can any football lover not be disappointed about that? But what should and will happen (now), I will stay away from that.
“I will leave that to (Football Association chairman) Greg (Dyke) and to the Fifa executive committee and they can get on with it because at my particular level, I work in a football team, it doesn’t affect me.
“But as a football lover it affects me and it is very saddening … one hopes desperately that measures will be taken to make certain it doesn’t happen again.”
Each of Fifa’s 209 associations should have the opportunity to vote in secret today.
If either candidate achieves two-thirds of the eligible vote in the first round then he wins outright – if there are 209 votes that means 139 to win outright.
If there is no outright victory, the winner will simply be whoever gains more votes in the second round.
Mr Dyke backed the idea of a co-ordinated European boycott of the World Cup.
“What there is no point in is one or two countries saying ‘We’re not going to take part’ because they will carry on with the tournament without them and that is pretty unfair on the fans,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
“But if Uefa as a group said ‘Look, unless you get this sorted we are not going to be in the World Cup’ then I think that we would join them.”
Mr Dyke said things “look ominous” for Mr Blatter and suggested that, even if he won today’s election, his time as president would be limited.
“I hope he doesn’t win but if he does I think the events of this week have turned him into a diminished figure and I can’t see him lasting more than a year or two,” he said.
“Mr Blatter’s statement yesterday in which he basically said ‘Leave it to me, I will clean it up” – nobody is going to believe that.
“And I think it is quite ominous for him when the attorney general in America says this is only the beginning, not the end.”
Asked why there had not been prosecutions brought by the UK, he said: “You’d have to ask the British prosecuting authorities. I think the Government, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, has got all that information.
“If they showed an inclination, we would obviously support and help and give them any evidence we have,” he added – though he admitted that a lot of it amounted to no more than “hearsay and gossip”.
Published: Friday 29th May 2015 by Caroline Stephenson