Sepp Blatter retained the top job at soccer’s governing body and then proceeded to blast the U.S. Justice Department which began a criminal investigation targeting his organization days before his re-election.
The 79-year-old’s opponent, Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan, withdrew before a second-round vote. In the first round, Blatter defeated Ali 133 to 73. Now, entering a fifth term as president of FIFA, he has four more years to head the not-for-profit group, which collected almost $5 billion from running last year’s World Cup in Brazil.
Though his win was less emphatic than the 92 percent support he garnered when running unopposed in 2011, Blatter emerged from an unprecedented scandal firmly in power, even if the image of world soccer was once again severely tarnished.
“The storm hasn’t reached hurricane strength,” Blatter said at a press conference in Zurich today. “Of course I am relieved” after the election.
In an interview with Swiss broadcaster RTS hours after his victory, Blatter said he was “shocked” at the allegations made by U.S. Attorney-General Loretta Lynch. Blatter said he would never make such claims of generalized corruption of another organization without certainty of what had gone on.
The timing of arrests of FIFA officials on the eve of the election in Zurich rather than in the Americas, the fact the U.S. lost a bid for the 2022 World Cup, and the U.S.’s strong support for Ali’s home country of Jordan are all suspect, he said in the interview.
“It doesn’t smell good,” he told RTS.
Blatter said in the press conference he wasn’t involved in the bribery scandal concerning former FIFA vice president Jack Warner, who was indicted this week. He added he’s not concerned that he will be personally drawn into the investigations.
While FIFA’s operations won’t be directly affected by the probes, it needs establish if the crimes alleged were “more administrative or criminal in nature,” Blatter said.
Two days after a dawn raid of a luxury hotel rounded up suspects including two current FIFA vice presidents, nearly two-thirds of FIFA’s 209 members voiced their approval for a man who has presided over a scandal-plagued tenure lasting almost two decades. They ignored pleas to move on from soccer stars, political leaders, corporate sponsors and fans.
“Today was another dark day in Zurich,” said Luis Figo, a former Real Madrid star who dropped out of the running against Blatter last week. Blatter’s re-election, Figo said, “shows exactly how the organization is sick.”
Blatter tapped loyalty from dozens of soccer outposts in Africa and Asia to head off a challenge that appeared to gather momentum in the days leading up to the election. Michel Platini, the president of European soccer authority UEFA, was among regional officials seeking fresh leadership of FIFA by backing 39-year-old Prince Ali. The Frenchman on Thursday asked Blatter to resign but he refused, Platini said. U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron also called for Blatter to step down, and sponsors including Coca Cola Co. said FIFA should resolve the scandal.
Blatter said FIFA has been in touch with its sponsors and the group plans personal visits to allay their concerns.
As the U.S. seeks to extradite nine soccer officials, Swiss authorities have started their own probe, raiding FIFA’s Zurich hilltop headquarters as part of a criminal probe into the controversial 2010 vote that delivered the next two World Cups to Russia and Qatar. Blatter hasn’t been charged.
A skilled tactician when it comes to soccer politics, Blatter knew the numbers were in his favor. Though Europe is home to soccer’s richest teams, its biggest stars and its last three World Cup winners, its power on election day is neutered by FIFA’s one-country, one-vote system.
The Swiss native joined FIFA as a technical officer in 1975 and was first elected to succeed Joao Havelange as president in
1998. During that time, Blatter witnessed 10 World Cups on five continents over four decades.
As president, FIFA’s income has ballooned -- the latest World Cup tournament generated almost $5 billion in revenue -- and more than $1 billion of that was shared with member nations via “solidarity” programs.
At the same time, FIFA’s reputation was battered by successive crises as Blatter suppressed criticism of the organization. In 2004, he said public interest in women’s soccer would grow if players wore “tighter shorts” and later compared player trading to “modern slavery.”
His handling of the 2001 collapse of the organization’s marketing partner, ISL, was called “clumsy” in a report by FIFA’s ethics head that Blatter eventually cleared for publication in 2013. It said Blatter’s predecessor and mentor, Havelange, received bribes from the defunct marketing company. Other senior FIFA board members were also named.
FIFA’s reputation sunk even lower after the 2010 vote for Qatar and Russia and Blatter’s successful presidential campaign a year later. He said the term would be his last and he would rebuild FIFA. Three years later, with FIFA still mired in crisis, Blatter backtracked, saying he would go on.
Blatter told RTS that the calls this week for him to resign from Platini and others were regrettable.
“Those are not things we do,” he said. “I forgive everyone but I do not forget.”