FIFA President Sepp Blatter was re- elected yesterday to a fourth term as head of soccer’s governing body and immediately came under new pressure for changes to prevent corruption at the World Cup organizer.
Blatter, a FIFA official since 1976, got support on 186 of the 203 ballots cast, or 92 percent, with five national associations not voting during the congress in Zurich. Blatter overcame an attempt by England’s Football Association to delay the election because of corruption probes, one of which involved the opposing candidate.
Blatter will try to restore the reputation of the body that controls the most-watched sports tournament, the World Cup, a quadrennial competition that brings in more than $4 billion. The only other candidate, Mohamed Bin Hammam, withdrew last weekend, just before being suspended alongside FIFA Vice President Jack Warner following accusations the duo conspired to buy votes. Soccer officials say the 75-year-old Blatter has much to do.
“The recent happenings have once more proven that FIFA needs a change in its whole structure,” said Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, chairman of the European Club Association, which represents teams in the region’s largest leagues. “I request FIFA to immediately introduce democratic and transparent structures and procedures.”
FIFA had been fending off corruption allegations for months, with nine of its 24-member decision-making panel having been suspended or facing claims of impropriety in the past year. Most of the allegations centered on World Cup bidding.
Two executives in the selection of the 2018 and 2022 hosts were removed before the vote for Russia and Qatar following a newspaper report that they had offered to sell their support.
“We will put FIFA’s ship back on the right course in clear transparent waters,” Blatter told delegates after the election. “We will need some time: We cannot do it from one day to the next.”
Henry Kissinger, a Nobel laureate who served as Secretary of State from 1973 to 1977 under U.S. Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Gerald Ford, has agreed to join a “committee of wise persons” to advise FIFA’s newly formed corporate governance and compliance unit, Blatter said.
The 88-year-old Kissinger worked on the U.S.’s failed bid for the 2022 World Cup. He also chaired the advisory panel for the 1994 World Cup, which the U.S. hosted.
The scandals have concerned sponsors that pay FIFA $343 million to be associated with the World Cup.
Visa Inc. (V), the biggest bank card network, and airline Emirates joined Coca-Cola Co. and Adidas AG to voice concerns.
“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 said.
Blatter, General Secretary Jerome Valcke and FIFA’s marketing division have spoken to two main sponsors and “not a single one will withdraw,” Blatter said.
“‘They said, ‘We trust you, but please bring back this board of FIFA in better waters.’ This is what we are going to do,” Blatter said. “After the decision was taken today and direct dialogue I am sure they are happy to go on with us, not only with the World Cup but with other competitions.”
The suspension of Warner and Asian soccer headBin Hammam came after U.S. official Chuck Blazer alleged the pair gave cash to Caribbean soccer officials, which Warner and Bin Hammam deny. They in turn asked FIFA’s ethics body to look into Blatter, who they said knew about their meeting. He was cleared.
Warner also publicized a private e-mail from Valcke in which he said Qatar “bought” the World Cup. Qatar denied the accusation.
Blatter said future World Cups should be selected by all 208 FIFA nations, not just the 24 members of its executive. He said many of FIFA’s troubles can be traced to the process to choose hosts for the flagship event.
“In one of the interventions we have heard it was said we should empower the associations, and I am 100 percent in agreement, and in future the hosting of the World Cup will be decided by the congress,” Blatter said. “The executive committee will create a shortlist and make no recommendations, then the congress will decide on the venue.”
The Sunday Times provided evidence to a U.K. government panel alleging Qatar paid $1.5 million to two voters from Africa to support its bid over four rivals including the U.S. The former chairman of England’s 2018 bid team told the same committee that four other officials made improper demands to secure their backing. FIFA said there’s no evidence to prove any wrongdoing.
Theo Zwanziger, president of the German soccer federation, said on the organization’s website that FIFA “needs to take a closer look” at the decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar.
England’s F.A. chairman David Bernstein yesterday took the stage to call for the presidential vote to be delayed because a “coronation without an opponent provides a flawed mandate.”
His message was poorly received. Officials from Haiti, Congo DR, Cyprus, Fiji and Benin voiced their disapproval before Julio Grondona, a FIFA vice president from Argentina, complained about the move.
‘Attacks From England’
“We always have attacks from England, mostly with lies and with the support of a journalism which is more busy lying than telling the truth,” the 78-year-old said.
Blatter told officials that he’d have “zero tolerance” for wrongdoing and would create a new “committee of the solutions” to undertake investigations.
Europe’s top soccer clubs said Blatter must start reform right away.
“European clubs will no longer accept that they do not participate in the decision making when it comes to club-related matters,” the ECA’s Rummenigge said yesterday in a statement. “We will closely follow FIFA’s development in this respect in the future and take appropriate measures if there is no improvement.”
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