Blatter Tests Support as FIFA Faces Brazil, Qatar BacklashAlex Duff and Tariq Panja
FIFA President Sepp Blatter, who said in 2011 he’d steer soccer’s ruling body through troubled waters, isn’t anywhere near land.
Brazil is readying for street protests over $3.6 billion of public spending on the 2014 World Cup, which starts in two days in Sao Paulo. About two weeks after the tournament ends, a panel will submit a report into alleged bribery of soccer officials before Qatar was awarded the 2022 edition. Blatter said yesterday the accusations were part of a plot to destroy FIFA.
Against that backdrop, at a two-day congress starting in Sao Paulo today, Blatter will ask officials from 209 national associations for their support to stand for a fifth four-year term next year. Three years after saying he wouldn’t stand again, Blatter, 78, said in a video released May 30 his “mission is never finished.”
Harold Mayne-Nicholls, a former FIFA official from Chile, said it’s time for Blatter to take responsibility for what he called errors that preceded the selection of Brazil and Qatar as hosts and stand aside.
“The man who is leading FIFA doesn’t have an ounce of responsibility,” Mayne-Nicholls said in a phone interview. “You can’t just have someone who hangs on all the time. It’s not healthy.”
Blatter stood unopposed at the last election in 2011 after his only opponent, Mohamed Bin Hammam of Qatar, withdrew a day before he was investigated for offering $40,000 in bribes to voters in the Caribbean. Bin Hammam, who was expelled from the sport, has denied wrongdoing.
So far, former FIFA executive Jerome Champagne is the only candidate to come forward to stand against Blatter. Michel Platini, president of European ruling body UEFA, told L’Equipe newspaper June 5 he will decide in August whether to run.
Michael van Praag, head of the Netherlands soccer federation, today became the most-senior official to speak out against Blatter’s plan to seek re-election. He told de Volkskrant newspaper that after 16 years in the top job, Blatter should step down given the damage to his and FIFA’s reputation.
“ Few still take the FIFA seriously and no matter how you look at it, Blatter is responsible in the end,” said van Praag, a member of European soccer body UEFA’s executive board.
Blatter hasn’t been accused of corruption and remains popular with officials around the world, according to George Weah, 1995 World Player of the Year who is a FIFA committee member on soccer issues.
“They will vote for him because he’s the one that’s been there,” Weah said by phone from his native Liberia. “He’s a good person, he knows the job.”
The Sunday Times, using “100s of millions” of leaked e-mails, has alleged Bin Hammam paid more than $5 million to officials as part of a campaign to influence voters before the 2022 World Cup vote. The U.K. newspaper published a 2010 e-mail in which Weah sent a Bank of America account number in Pembroke Pines, Florida, to the assistant of Bin Hammam.
Weah said Bin Hammam was a “father figure” he’d known since 1998 and any interaction was personal and not related to Qatar’s bid. Bin Hammam has denied wrongdoing.
FIFA, under pressure from sponsors, soccer leagues, team executives and fans, voted through a number of corporate governance reforms in 2012 and 2013.
Since then, other scandals have emerged related to historic incidents involving senior FIFA executives including its former president, Joao Havelange. FIFA said Havelange took kickbacks from a now-defunct marketing partner. About one-third of the voters who participated in 2010 in choosing Qatar as a World Cup host have quit or been suspended.
Accusations by the Sunday Times of bribery around the awarding of the World Cup to Qatar are indicative of a plot against FIFA, Blatter said yesterday. England was among the unsuccessful bidders for the 2018 edition.
“They want to destroy, not the game, but they want to destroy the institution,” Blatter told Asian soccer officials.
The Confederation of African Football yesterday condemned “repeated, deliberately hateful, defamatory and degrading attacks by some media, notably British,” and said it may sue the authors. Blatter has spent the last two days trying to shore up support, promising soccer federations they’ll be getting undisclosed bonuses because of FIFA’s financial strength.
Alexandra Wrage, president of non-profit Trace International, which provides anti-bribery advice to multinational companies, quit a group advising FIFA last year, describing the work as the “least productive project” of her career. She said Blatter, who upon his last re-election declared himself the captain of a ship in troubled waters, wouldn’t remain president if FIFA was run like a corporation.
“When a series of scandals happen on the captain’s watch, the captain is responsible for those,” she said in a recent telephone interview from Annapolis, Maryland. “He may not be personally responsible, but rule one of leadership is if it happens in your watch you are responsible.”
Blatter should stand down after “maybe immoral” vote trading between FIFA executives in selecting the 2018 and 2022 World Cups -- the first went to Russia -- and for a decision to rotate the World Cup between continents, allowing Brazil to become host, Mayne-Nicholls said.
FIFA’s meeting in Brazil may be a target for protesters, with many Brazilians angry about the amount of money being spent on the event to meet the soccer body’s requirements.
“The World Cup in Brazil is surely going to affect the image of FIFA even more,” Mayne-Nicholls said.
For Blatter though, the main constituents are the national soccer bodies, who receive millions of dollars in handouts every year. Revenue has grown 20-fold since Blatter became president in 1998, according to Domenico Scala, the independent audit and compliance head voted in to oversee FIFA in 2012.
“By all financial standards he’s pretty successful. As long as the reputation has no impact on the financials, it is hard to argue he is not successful,” Scala said recently by phone. “How is that possible? When you have a good product -- and FIFA has an excellent product.”