Sepp Blatter rules again

Sepp Blatter

Sepp Blatter

ZURICH. — Sepp Blatter was re-elected president of FIFA for a fifth term yesterday after his only challenger conceded defeat but the storm triggered an election overshadowed by allegations of rampant corruption appearsto be just beginning.There is a possibility Uefa, who opposed Blatter, could break away from FIFA.

Many of Blatter’s opponents have spoken of steps they can take against him.

English Football Association chairman Greg Dyke, who has suggested that England might back a possible boycott of the 2018 World Cup, said FIFA’s crisis was not over.

“This is the beginning, not the end. I think there is a lot more of this to play out,” he told Sky News shortly after Blatter had seen off Ali’s challenge — the first time he has faced an opponent at a FIFA election since 2002.

Neither Blatter nor Jordanian opponent Prince Ali bin Al Hussein got the necessary two thirds of the ballot in the first round, with Blatter securing 133 votes against 73 for Prince Ali.

It means that more than one third of the FIFA family doesn’t believe that Blatter is the right man to lead FIFA.

Blatter’s victory came despite demands that he quit in the face of a major bribery scandal being investigated by US, Swiss and other law enforcement agencies that plunged soccer’s governing body into the worst crisis in its 111-year history.

However, Prince Ali swiftly conceded.

“I congratulate you if you voted for Prince Ali, he was a good candidate, but I am the president now, the president of everybody,” the 79-year-old Blatter said in his victory speech.

FIFA, ruled over by Blatter since 1998, was rocked this week by the arrest of seven senior officials in a pre-dawn police raid at a luxury Swiss hotel as part of an investigation into widespread financial wrongdoing stretching back for years.

Blatter has batted away the furore, relying on his network of friends to hold onto power at Fifa, which he joined in 1975.

“At the end of my term I will give back a strong FIFA to my successor. You ask me about age. Age is not a problem. You have people who are 50, they look old,” he said to huge laughs.

Prince Ali, in his pitch for votes, had pledged an open, more democratic FIFA, saying: “We have heard in recent days, voices which described our Fifa as an avaricious body which feeds on the game that the world loves.

“There are no easy answers. And no blame that can be cast that will wash away the stain that marks us all,” he said.

While Asian, African and Latin American states had been expected to rally around Blatter, Europe, which accounts for all but three of the countries that have ever made it to a World Cup’s final match, had been keen for him to step aside.

European soccer chiefs said after the vote that FIFA had to embrace reform.

“Change in my opinion is crucial if this organisation is to regain its credibility,” said Michel Platini, who heads Europe’s soccer confederation Uefa.

US authorities have accused top FIFA figures and sports executives of corruption, while Switzerland is investigating the award of the next World Cup finals to Russia and Qatar.

The scandal widened yesterday when Britain’s Serious Fraud Office said it was examining possible corruption at FIFA.

A judge in Argentina has ordered the arrest of three businessmen accused of using bribery to obtain soccer media rights, and the Brazilian Senate moved to open a formal inquiry into soccer bribery allegations.

Marco Polo Del Nero, the president of the Brazilian Football Confederation, dramatically flew back to Brazil from the FIFA Congress shortly before yesterday’s vote.

Former Brazilian soccer chief Jose Maria Marin was also arrested this week in connection with the case.

Del Nero told a press conference yesterday he did not plan to resign and “had nothing to do” with corruption.

FIFA takes in billions of dollars in revenue from television marketing rights and sponsorships, making it one of the wealthiest and most powerful sports bodies in the world. It has been dogged by corruption scandals for decades, mostly investigating itself and avoiding scrutiny by criminal courts.

One of its top sponsors, Coca-Cola, said after Blatter’s re-election that “FIFA must now seize the opportunity to begin winning back the trust it has lost”. It added in an email that it wanted to see the soccer federation take “concrete actions”.

Russia and Qatar deny wrongdoing in their bids to host the World Cup.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused the United States of meddling in an effort to force Blatter out.

Qatar yesterday issued a further defence of its bid and said it would carry on with plans to stage the event in 2022.

The decision to host the world’s biggest soccer tournament in a small desert state where daytime summer temperatures rarely fall below 40 degrees Celsius startled many in global sport, and

Blatter had repeatedly promised not to stand for re-election again, but as his fourth mandate drew to a close he changed his tune and said he needed yet another term to complete his work.

Other European soccer officials have also alluded to the prospect of a boycott, but that is still seen as unlikely given the tournament’s importance to the global game.

Most of the developing world in Africa, Asia and parts of Central America and the Caribbean are happy that FIFA under Blatter has guaranteed them annual grants and bonus payments in World Cup years.

Addressing the Congress yesterday, Blatter promised to boost the profile of Pacific island soccer federations grouped in Oceania, and said more had to be done to promote women.

“Let’s go FIFA, Let’s go FIFA,” he said to a standing ovation. — Reuters/Agencies.