Sepp Blatter denies FIFA is in crisis
“Football is not in a crisis, only some difficulties,” said the Fifa president.
Blatter brushed off suggestions, from the British government among others, that Wednesday’s presidential election – for which he is the only candidate – should be suspended.
“If governments try to intervene then something is wrong,” he said.
“I think Fifa is strong enough that we can deal with our problems inside Fifa.”
Blatter, unusually appearing alone at a news conference in Zurich, gave a defiant display despite the storm surrounding the organisation.
But he ended the news conference in an angry exchange with a German reporter and talked of his time working as a journalist, complaining about a lack of “respect” from some members of the media, warning them: “We are not in a bazaar; we are in Fifa’s house.”
The 75-year-old Blatter insisted that a Football Association inquiry by barrister James Dingemans QC looking into ex-FA and bid chairman Lord Triesman’s claims of alleged Fifa impropriety had “found no elements” which would prompt the world governing to investigate further.
This despite Dingemans’ report revealing that Fifa executive committee Nicolas Leoz’s aide had asked for the FA Cup to be named after the Paraguayan Exco member, who Triesman claimed in Parliament had demanded a knighthood from England’s 2018 bid.
Fifa has now published a summary of Dingemans’ report on its website.
Sports minister Hugh Robertson had expressed the British government’s displeasure at Fifa’s situation last week, calling for its presidential election to be suspended.
But Blatter argued neither governments nor anyone outside the Fifa membership could have any bearing on the election process, and vowed to carry on unless Wednesday’s congress decided otherwise.
“If somebody wants to change something in the election or in the congress of Wednesday, these are the members of Fifa,” he said.
“This cannot be done by the executive committee, it cannot be done by any authorities outside of Fifa – it’s only the congress itself that can do it.
“Congress will decide if I am a valid or non-valid candidate.”
Blatter is expected to stand unopposed in an election marred by a torrent of dissent from within and beyond football’s world governing body.
The only rival candidate to emerge – Mohamed Bin Hammam, president of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) – pulled out having been suspended by Fifa’s own ethics committee over allegations that financial incentives were offered to Caribbean Football Union members.
Fifa vice-president Jack Warner, himself also suspended on similar grounds, subsequently revealed an e-mail in which another high-ranking Fifa official, secretary general Jerome Valcke, suggested Bin Hammam had “bought” the 2022 World Cup finals for Qatar.
Valcke has since attempted to clarify those remarks and Qatar 2022 itself issued a statement claiming that Valcke’s words had been “taken out of context” and its bid had been “dragged through the mud for absolutely no reason”.
Blatter, however, took pains to avoid dealing with the detail of the various allegations as he faced reporters, saying only: “You should ask [Bin Hammam] why he pulled out. I was prepared to go into an election process with another candidate and then the congress would have decided. Now the situation has changed.”
These arguments may now begin to damage the organisation’s commercial interests as, earlier on Monday, two of Fifa’s largest sponsors – Coca-Cola and Adidas – expressed concern at the widely publicised in-fighting.
“The current allegations being raised are distressing and bad for the sport,” said a Coca-Cola spokesperson. “We have every expectation that Fifa will resolve this situation in an expedient and thorough manner.”
An Adidas spokesman said: “The negative tenor of the public debate around Fifa at the moment is neither good for football nor for Fifa and its partners.”
Though insistent that the election process and the Qatar World Cup 2022 bid had not been undermined by recent revelations, Blatter admitted Fifa’s reputation stands at a low ebb.
“I have tried for years to make Fifa’s reputation the highest possible,” he said. “I regret what has happened in the last few days and weeks, [causing] great damage to the image of Fifa and a lot of disappointment for football fans.
“When I entered Fifa 36 years ago, we had no problems. We had no problems until 1998, this was the so-called ‘very modest’ Fifa. Now we are a ‘comfortable’ Fifa. I think we are too comfortable and some people like that.
“We are in a game and all the little devils can enter the game. We have to fight against these devils. We have started to fight.
“We are in a very bad situation but, starting on Wednesday, the football family has the opportunity and they have to take it: if they want to restore the credibility of Fifa, and if they want to restore it with me.”
As Blatter took to the podium in Zurich, Warner – one of the four members named by Triesman – issued his own statement welcoming the FA-commissioned inquiry which exonerated him.
“Today, I regained some hope in the power of truth and transparency,” Warner’s statement read.
“The report of the independent investigator on the allegations of Lord Triesman has proven once again that whenever the truth is told, people will always be able to have their names exonerated.”
Meanwhile, a Conservative MP who sits on the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee has called for Wednesday’s Fifa election to be suspended and put forward his own agenda for the reform of the organisation.
Damian Collins, the MP for Folkestone and Hythe, has worked with the ChangeFifa organisation to set out a five-point plan, inviting “parliamentarians and elected representatives from all the nations of the world to register their support”.
Collins calls for the immediate suspension of the election and an independent inquiry followed by voting reform, increased transparency regarding decisions taken and Fifa finances, and limits to the number of terms Fifa members may serve as president or on the organisation’s executive committee.
China’s Zhang Jilong has assumed temporary charge of the AFC in the wake of Bin Hammam’s suspension, while Lisle Austin of Barbados is to stand in for Warner as the president of Concacaf.