FIFA re-elects Sepp Blatter amid scandals

Stung by allegations of mismanagement and corruption, Sepp
Blatter held onto his spot as the leader of world football
Wednesday, winning a one-man election derided as a
”coronation.”

The 75-year-old Swiss who has headed the sport virtually
unchallenged for 13 years struck a rare note of humility in a
speech that promised to reform an ethics committee and provide more
transparency in decision-making but was short on specifics.

”We have been hit and I personally have been slapped,” Blatter
told delegates to the sport’s congress. ”I don’t want that ever
again.”

Blatter won a fourth four-year term as head of FIFA, football’s
governing body, by receiving 186 out of 203 votes in an election
during the congress in which his was the only name on the ballot.
His sole challenger, Qatari executive committee member Mohamed bin
Hammam, withdrew from the race last weekend amid bribery
allegations.

The election capped a period of several months in which FIFA has
been buffeted by a swirl of corruption allegations, bid scandals,
internal infighting and match-fixing cases that have scarred the
credibility of the organization and the world’s most popular
sport.

The votes in December to award the 2018 World Cup to Russia and
the 2022 World Cup to Qatar sparked accusations in the British
Parliament of bribes and other ethical misconduct among FIFA
officials. FIFA said this week there was no evidence to back up
those claims.

Then, last weekend bin Hammam and FIFA vice president Jack
Warner – two of the highest-ranking and most powerful men in the
global game – were suspended pending a full inquiry into
allegations of vote-buying in the Qatari’s bid to unseat Blatter.
Cash bribes of $40,000 were allegedly paid to individual Caribbean
football leaders to vote for bin Hammam.

Warner and bin Hammam denied wrongdoing and claimed the
allegations – submitted to FIFA by American executive committee
member Chuck Blazer – were part of a plot by Blatter to wreck the
Qatari’s election bid.

England’s FA chairman David Bernstein called for a postponement
of the election for several months to allow for the corruption
scandals to be cleared up, saying that ”a coronation without an
opponent provides a flawed mandate.” However, 172 of the 208
delegations rejected England’s call.

After his re-election, Blatter immediately sought to prove that
his promise of reform was no trick to turn the vote his way but
genuine signs of change.

”Reforms will be made and not just touchups but radical
decisions,” Blatter said in his speech.

After denying there even was a crisis until late Monday – ”What
is a crisis?” – he was contrite on Wednesday, saying he had
personally talked to two top sponsors to assuage their concerns
over sleaze and corruption.

”We will put FIFA’s ship back on the right course in clear
transparent waters,” he said in French. ”We will need some time.
We cannot do it from one day to the next. It’s a new challenge for
me and I accept it.”

In a major policy shift, Blatter said he wanted future World Cup
hosts to be decided by a vote of all 208 federations instead of
FIFA’s 24 executive committee members, several of whom have been
involved in bribery scandals.

The congress also endorsed his plans to revamp the ethics
committee and bring in more transparency. In addition, Blatter said
he planned to appoint a woman to the executive committee, but again
without voting power.

FIFA will meet again later this year to formally adopt the
measures, by which time Blatter’s intention for fundamental change
should become clearer.

Bernstein, the English FA leader, said his failed attempt to
postpone the election still succeeded in putting pressure on
Blatter to announce reforms.

”We believe the calls we have made for greater transparency and
better governance have been worthwhile,” he said in a
statement.

Blatter sidestepped calls for independent, outside oversight
that many critics had insisted on and he himself had promised.

IOC President Jacques Rogge told Blatter on the eve of the
election that only drastic measures to improve democracy and
transparency had saved the Olympic movement when it faced a similar
corruption scandal in the run-up to the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter
Games.

Allegations regarding the 2022 World Cup, in which tiny oil-rich
Qatar defeated the United States in the final round, continue to
dog FIFA.

FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke wrote in an E-mail that
Qatar ”bought” the 2022 World Cup, though later claimed he was
referring to legitimate lobbying and not bribes.

On Wednesday, German federation president Theo Zwanziger said
Qatar’s victory should be reviewed in light of ”speculations and
corruption allegations.” Qatar has denied any wrongdoing.

Blatter’s re-election underlined once again his sway over the
FIFA ”family.” FIFA doles out millions of dollars in development
and other aid to its 208 member associations, funds that engender
loyalty among the ranks.

National football federations also know Blatter is a proven
moneymaker.

FIFA made a $631 million profit in the four years leading up to
the 2010 World Cup, registering $202 million of that in the last
year alone. The four-year financial cycle showed income of $4.19
billion from broadcast and commercial deals, with 87 percent tied
directly to the World Cup.

AP Sports writers Rob Harris and Graham Dunbar in Zurich and
Nesha Starcevic in Frankfurt contributed to this report.