|Cornered: but Blatter has come out fighting against the allegations against him and FIFA [GALLO/GETTY]|
FIFA President Sepp Blatter is likely to be returned unopposed for another four-year term on Wednesday despite a corruption scandal that has plunged football into its worst crisis.
Blatter, a 75-year-old Swiss, has run the world governing body since 1998 and seen it grow wealthy on the sale of TV rights and sponsorship.
But the game’s reputation has been put under the microscope after a spate of corruption allegations, the suspension of two senior FIFA officials and suggestions Qatar bought the 2022 World Cup, which the Gulf state has strenuously denied.
In the latest twist, Chuck Blazer – an American whose whistle-blowing led to the suspension of the two FIFA executives including Blatter’s only rival for the presidency Mohamed Bin Hammam – was sacked on Tuesday from his position on the regional soccer body CONCACAF.
An hour later, that body for North and Central America and the Caribbean declared the dismissal invalid.
The internal chaos magnified the drama surrounding the FIFA Congress in Zurich, where the English Football Association is leading calls for the presidential vote to be postponed.
The only way Blatter will not be given a new term is if the congress proposes and passes a motion to call off the election with the support of 75 per cent of voting delegates.
That is unlikely to happen.
Since Blatter became president, the governing body has grown rich thanks to its ability to generate billions of dollars from television rights to major tournaments as well as sponsorship deals with large corporations.
Swiss President Micheline Calmy-Rey called for swift FIFA reform while Asian anger grew over FIFA’s handling of Bin Hammam, the Qatari head of the Asian Football Confederation who was suspended following bribery allegations.
“We are planning to make our voices heard,” Nepal’s AFC vice-president Ganesh Thapa told Singapore’s Straits Times newspaper.
“What is important is to restore full confidence in the organisation; let not money spoil your ideals”
Micheline Calmy-Rey, President of Switzerland
“Mohamed (bin) Hammam has been a great leader for Asia. (What FIFA has done) is not fair play.”
The drama crossed the Atlantic late on Tuesday when the CONCACAF region’s acting president Lisle Austin – standing in for the suspended Jack Warner, the second executive implicated in a cash-for-votes scandal highlighted by Blazer – sacked Blazer as general secretary of the region’s soccer body.
Blazer had “grossly insulted” Caribbean delegates by suggesting they were all being investigated for bribery, said Barbadian Austin, who is seen as a close ally of Warner.
Both Bin Hammam and Warner have denied any wrongdoing.
Blazer responded with a statement issued by CONCACAF’s media department in New York that said the move was “unauthorised” and that the American remained in office.
Blatter, meanwhile, has insisted the sport is not in crisis.
He told the opening ceremony of the congress in Zurich on Tuesday that FIFA faced dangers, while sombre delegates spoke of little else but the gloom surrounding the organisation.
The problems at FIFA, which Blatter called “difficulties” on Monday, has triggered criticism from around the world.
Among those backing moves to stop Blatter were English FA President Prince William, who was “fully supportive” of the proposal to postpone the vote and who “considers the transparency of the international governing body to be integral to the good governance of the game,” said a spokeswoman for St James’ Palace.
Swiss President Calmy-Rey told delegates that FIFA needed to “take seriously” the criticisms voiced about corruption.
“It is important you examine them swiftly and take the necessary measures to reform your governance. It is of the utmost importance because your organisation should be an example not only to young people but to the world at large.
“What is important is to restore full confidence in the organisation; let not money spoil your ideals.”
Sponsors also spoke out. Visa Inc and Emirates Airlines were the latest of FIFA’s most important sponsors, or Partners as the governing body calls them, to express disquiet at the allegations of corruption, following in the steps of Coca-Cola and Adidas who had earlier voiced concern.
“The current situation is clearly not good for the game and we ask that FIFA take all necessary steps to resolve the concerns that have been raised,” Visa Europe said in a statement.
Emirates airline said it was “disappointed with the issues that are currently surrounding the administration of the sport”.
The other two members of the six-strong group of Partners, Sony and Hyundai-Kia , have made no comment.