FIFA president Sepp Blatter said he’s had first-hand experience of corruption threatening soccer’s governing body, and will try to “stop once and for all” the alleged graft should he be re-elected to a fourth term.
Blatter, 75, has been president of FIFA for almost 12 of his 36 years with the Zurich-based organization. In the last six months, FIFA has faced allegations of possible corruption in the bidding for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosts.
He said someone attempted to bribe him when he was general secretary, a post he held until 1998, by putting an envelope containing cash into his jacket pocket. He declined to identify the person in an interview last week, and said the money was returned the next day.
“I couldn’t refuse because he put it in my pocket,” Blatter said, unbuttoning the golden buttons of his navy sports jacket to reveal a pocket. “I came here to the home of FIFA and gave it to the finance director and he put this money on the account of the Swiss Bank Corp.”
Blatter has been meeting in the past few weeks with some of the 208 national federations that will decide on June 1 whether he or challenger Mohamed Bin Hammam, a Qatari who’s responsible for soccer in Asia, will lead the organization until 2015.
FIFA has revenue of more than $1 billion a year, and questions have been raised in a U.K. parliamentary committee about the conduct of its officials.
Former English Football Association chairman David Triesman told Parliament that four senior FIFA members asked for favors in exchange for their votes during the race to host the 2018 World Cup, which was won by Russia. The Sunday Times newspaper claimed that two others were paid $1.5 million to choose World Cup 2022 host Qatar. Two others were suspended last year.
The allegations have followed Blatter on his global tour. Last weekend in South Africa, he banged a table with his fist while saying FIFA wasn’t a corrupt organization.
The public perception of FIFA “hurts me,” Blatter said, speaking to a small group of reporters in a conference room called ‘Fair Play’ on the first floor of FIFA’s $200 million glass-clad Zurich headquarters.
FIFA opened its new home in 2006 saying its design would “allow light to shine through the building and create the transparency we all stand for.”
Blatter said the organization may have to improve its communication, particularly when it comes to dealing with impropriety. He’s pledged a “zero tolerance’ approach to governance and compliance within FIFA if he’s re-elected. He says there are people inside soccer’s governing body that ‘don’t deserve to be.” The 2001 collapse of marketing partner ISL revealed some FIFA officials had been paid bribes for decades. An out of court settlement was agreed last year.
Corruption has affected FIFA’s relationship with sponsors that contribute much of the $4 billion the governing body gets from its World Cup. In October Sony Corp.’s head of sponsorship said the electronics maker preferred to be associated with the tournament and not the governing body. Sportswear maker Adidas AG in statement said “the negative tenor of public debates is neither good for the sport of football nor for FIFA as an institution and its partners.”
Next week FIFA will meet the former Qatari bid employee who made the allegations about the country’s World Cup process. Qatar today said the bribe allegations are “completely false” and based on “worthless” evidence. FIFA is also awaiting details from the U.K. about Triesman’s allegations.
Blatter conceded that whatever the results of the investigation FIFA needs to urgently deal with damage corruption allegations have done to it.
“We shall find a solution to handle the past in order that we can stop once and forever all these images and damaging things about FIFA,” he said.