The corruption charges engulfing soccer’s governing body have heaped shame and humiliation on the game, Fifa president Sepp Blatter said yesterday, although he flatly rejected calls to resign over the scandal.
With Fifa facing the worst crisis in its 111-year history, Uefa boss Michel Platini said he had told Blatter to go “with tears in my eyes”, but the 79-year-old had refused.
“I said, ‘I’m asking you to leave, Fifa’s image is terrible.’ He said that he couldn’t leave all of a sudden,” said Platini, a French former international.
In a bullish speech opening a Fifa congress in Zurich, Blatter said the turbulence of the last two days, which included the arrest of leading soccer officials at their luxury Swiss hotel, had brought “shame and humiliation” to world soccer.
Making his first public appearance since Wednesday’s dramatic events, which were triggered by a US-led investigation into allegations of rampant bribe-taking, Blatter said there was no room “for corruption of any kind”.
“The events of yesterday have cast a long shadow over football and this congress,” said Blatter, who is standing for a fifth mandate as Fifa president in today’s election, where Prince Ali bin Al Hussein of Jordan is his only challenger.
Blatter said: “I know many people hold me ultimately responsible... [but] I cannot monitor everyone all the time. If people want to do wrong, they will also try to hide it.”
Platini said 45 or 46 of Uefa’s 53 member associations would vote for Prince Ali.
However, it appeared that Blatter still commanded enough of Fifa’s 209 national associations to secure victory. The Asian and African confederations have backed Blatter for president.
Blatter appeared confident despite the dawn raid by police on Wednesday that left seven of the most powerful figures in soccer in Swiss custody and facing extradition to the US on corruption charges.
Swiss authorities have also announced a criminal investigation into the awarding of the next two World Cups, Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022.
US authorities said that nine soccer officials and five sports media and promotions executives faced corruption charges involving more than $150m in bribes.
Both Qatar and Moscow have denied any suggestion of wrongdoing over their bids to host the World Cup.
The Fifa congress formally got under way yesterday evening. In the past the likes of Grace Jones have set the hearts racing of the older men in suits who comprise most of the congress’s constituency. But times have changed.
The evening was billed as a rather more subdued affair than normal under the banner ‘Game of Joy, Game of Hope’, with dancers and musicians on stage followed by a grand buffet afterwards.
The serious business starts this morning in Zurich’s Hallenstadion, which is where the announcement of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup venues was made in 2010.
French foreign minister Laurent Fabius said the vote should be delayed in light of the corruption investigation.
British Prime Minister David Cameron backed Prince Ali’s candidacy and said there was a strong case for a change of leadership at Fifa.
Sponsors including Visa, Adidas, and Coca Cola, appeared to be growing concerned at the unfolding events.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved