Blatter Fires Accusations at His Critics

Published: 31st May 2015 11:32 AM  |   Last Updated: 31st May 2015 11:32 AM   |  A+A-


Sepp Blatter went on the offensive yesterday (Saturday) following continuing accusations that he has presided over a regime of rampant corruption during his 17 years in charge of football's governing body.

After being re-elected as president of Fifa for a fifth consecutive term on Friday, the 79-year-old accused European football of conducting a hate campaign against him and condemning the targeting of his organisation by the US judicial authorities.

Facing down his critics, Mr Blatter raised the prospect of growing conflict between Uefa, European football's governing body, and his main group of support in the African and Asian football confederations, saying: "It is a hate that comes not just from one person at Uefa, it comes from the Uefa organisation that cannot understand that in 1998 I became president."

In response to growing calls for Uefa to boycott the next World Cup and demands, backed by David Cameron and the Football Association, that Fifa reruns the vote to pick the host nations for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments, Mr Blatter accused the "English media and the American movement" of conspiring against him. Facing the press for the first time since his re-election, he paved the way for a continued battle of wills with Michel Platini, the Uefa president, who last week urged him to resign. In an ominous warning of future relations between the two men, he stated: "I forgive but I do not forget when it comes to persons."

Mr Blatter's scarcely veiled threats came at the end of a week in which 14 Fifa officials, including seven of the organisation's most senior figures, were arrested at the request of the FBI as part of criminal investigations into bribes totalling $150?million (pounds 98?million).

The FBI said on Wednesday that it had uncovered 24 years of "brazen corruption ... undisclosed illegal payments, kickbacks and bribes" by Fifa officials, and that corruption in the organisation was "rampant, systemic and deep-rooted".

The US inquiry alleges that South Africa was awarded the 2010 World Cup as a result of bribery, with the head of its IRS Criminal Investigations division accusing Fifa of running a "World Cup of fraud".

At the same time, the Swiss authorities announced that they had opened a criminal inquiry into the decisions to award the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar.

But in a show of brazen defiance, Mr Blatter maintained that he had the support of the international football community and was the only man capable of restoring football's image. He said: "All of these events that have taken place, culminating in the police storming the Zurich hotel - and curiously enough there were already American journalists present at the time - this storm has not passed, but it has not become a hurricane at this time. We will work with our institutions and our bodies, and that way we will avoid future situations where there are surprises that catch us on the back foot."

Mr Blatter added: "I'm here as president of Fifa and I will continue my work and we will continue to fight for good things. It's now my duty to live up to a lot of responsibilities to fix the situation and recover our reputation."

Speaking at Fifa's sumptuous headquarters in Zurich, Mr Blatter denied any knowledge of one of the most serious single allegations made during the ongoing investigations - that $10?million was paid in bribes to the disgraced former vice-president of the organisation, Jack Warner, by a senior Fifa official.

Mr Warner, who faces up to 20 years in prison in the US if found guilty, was among those arrested last week and on being released on bail on Thursday appeared to implicate Mr Blatter. On leaving detention he attended a political rally, where he said: "If I have been thieving Fifa money for 30 years, who gave me the money?" When someone in the crowd shouted "Blatter!" Mr Warner responded: "And why it is he ain't charged?"

But asked directly if he had paid the $10?million to Mr Warner, Mr Blatter said yesterday: "I don't go into this allegation or your question. If such a thing is now somewhere in investigations, so let the investigation go ... definitely, that's not me," adding: "The only thing I can say is I have no 10 million dollars."

Questioned by journalists over whether he feared the consequences of the investigation from US authorities, he said: "The Americans are making investigations ... they have [the] right to do so. I have no concerns. I especially have no concerns about my person." And, dismissing any suggestion he could find himself placed under arrest alongside his colleagues, he uttered the terse response: "Arrested for what? Next question."

Mr Blatter also criticised the newly elected Fifa vice-president David Gill, who yesterday refused to take up his position in protest at the president's re-election, saying: "[Uefa] shall help and come in and take responsibility, and responsibility you cannot take when you are elected [and] you don't come even to the first meeting. This is no responsibility." But, in a sign of the deep concern at the heart of Fifa over the crisis started by the US and Swiss investigations, Mr Blatter announced he would visit the organisation's major sponsors - such as Visa and Coca-Cola - who have raised their own concerns over the allegations of corruption, with a number understood to be considering withdrawing their substantial financial support.

"We have already had contact with the sponsors after the revelations ... we have exchanged letters ... and the contact with our partners, I am sure I will bring them all back with a personal visit to them," he said.

The most turbulent week in Fifa's history had seen a growing body of support for root and branch reform of the organisation, with repeated calls for Mr Blatter to take personal responsibility and step down.

During a meeting with Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, before Mr Blatter's re-election, the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, said: "In my view he should go. We cannot have accusations of corruption at this level and on this scale in this organisation, and pretend that the person currently leading it is the right person to take it forward.

"Frankly, what we've seen is the ugly side of the beautiful game and he should go, and the sooner that happens the better."

Mr Cameron's comments were followed by those of David Bernstein, the former chairman of the FA, who said Fifa had "gone beyond the point of ridicule".

Gary Neville, the former England and Manchester United defender who is now a television pundit, called on players to take action and urged their professional

associations to become involved in the fight against Fifa's stranglehold on international football.

Writing in yesterday's Daily Telegraph, he said: "Just think of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, the two biggest stars in the game right now, and consider a World Cup without those two. The tournament would not exist if Ronaldo and Messi turned their backs on the World Cup because of the way Fifa is running the game. This would impact sponsors and broadcasters and in turn bring this whole debacle of an organisation to a standstill."

After Mr Blatter's defiant stand, however, that prospect still feels some way off.

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