Blatter wins FIFA presidential election despite arrests of officials
Sepp Blatter has been re-elected for a fifth term as FIFA president despite the crisis that has struck the world governing body this week.
Blatter saw off the challenge from Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein of Jordan after a week which saw seven FIFA officials arrested and 18 people connected to football indicted on corruption charges by the US justice department.
"I am now the president of everybody," the 79-year-old Blatter crowed after defeating Prince Ali to secure another four years in office as one of the most powerful men in sports.
Blatter won the first round by 133 votes to 73 and after Prince Ali decided to withdraw ahead of the second round, the 79-year-old was installed as FIFA president for another four years.
The outcome of the first-round vote meant Prince Ali succeeded in preventing Blatter from winning a two-thirds majority, but the prince pulled out of the contest rather than force a second round of voting.
"I want to thank all of you who were brave enough to support me," Prince Ali told the delegates.
His supporters had been keen to get past the 70-vote mark, as that would be seen to have delivered a bloody nose to Blatter. The victory is also set to see further protests from UEFA; the first action has come from David Gill, the Football Association vice-chairman who will reject the post of British vice-president as he does not want to serve under Blatter.
Gill will not attend the post-Congress executive committee meeting on Saturday where a decision is set to be taken on the allocation of World Cup places to each confederation.
Blatter had told the 209 associations who gathered for the FIFA Congress in Zurich that the crisis would not have happened if countries other than Russia and Qatar had won the vote for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
In what appeared a reference to the United States and England losing out, Blatter called for unity from FIFA’s 209 associations ahead of the presidential election. Most of the media investigations into FIFA have come from Britain, while it is the US justice authorities that sparked the current crisis with the seven arrests this week and indictments of 18 people, 13 of them football officials.
Blatter told the FIFA Congress: ”If two other countries had emerged from the envelope, I think we may not have these problems. But we can’t go back in time; we’re not prophets, we can’t say what would have happened.”
Russia president Vladimir Putin on Thursday criticized the American indictments and claimed they were designed to undermine Blatter’s re-election.
Blatter added of the police swoop which saw the seven FIFA officials arrested in Zurich on Wednesday: ”I am not going to use the word coincidence but I do have a small question mark.”
Blatter acknowledged the events of this week "unleashed a storm” ahead of the election but appealed to delegates for unity, and said: "I am being held accountable for the current storm, OK, so be it — I will shoulder that responsibility. I want to fix FIFA together with you — tomorrow, day after and in the weeks to come."
Blatter also hinted this term would be his last, saying: "At the end of my term of office I want to hand over a strong FIFA." He had given a similar message in 2011, however, only to change his mind and stand again.
He ended his address by spreading his arms and telling delegates: "I would just like to stay with you, I would like to continue with you."
Prince Ali, a 39-year-old graduate of military academy Sandhurst, had directly addressed the crisis that has struck FIFA and called for a "new dawn" for the world governing body.
He told delegates: "The eyes of the world are upon us and not for the first time and this time everything is at stake — for the game, for the world.
"The world that is watching is not a stakeholder separate from the game; FIFA does not exist in a bubble. There cannot be a more defining moment in time. We have heard in recent days voices describe our FIFA as morally bankrupt and an avaricious body which feeds off the game we love. There are no easy answers and no blame can be passed that washes away the stain.
"I will not hide among your ranks when things are bad and step forward when things are good. Now is the time to show the outside world that we are hungry for their respect. For the soul of our game and for a new dawn for FIFA."
Swiss police had earlier cleared the congress hall following a bomb threat. There was a another security incident when two pro-Palestinian protesters were ejected from the hall after making their way inside, while a demonstration calling for Israel to be ejected from FIFA continued outside.
The Palestinian FA dropped a proposal to have the Israeli FA suspended from FIFA but won the right for a committee to be established to ensure free movement of players and goods, and for FIFA to pass it to the United Nations to decide whether five Israeli settler clubs should be permitted to continue in "occupied territories".
This was followed by a symbolic handshake between the presidents of the Israeli and Palestinian FAs. John Delaney, chief executive of the Football Association of Ireland, believes that despite Blatter’s victory the pressure of the latest crisis will mean he does not see out his four-year term.
He told Press Association Sport: "I still think this is the beginning of the end of Sepp Blatter. I don’t see him seeing his four years out — the momentum is too great. We have to see how best we can use the European muscle. We also need to go on a charm offensive with Africa and Asia."
With FIFA in turmoil, Blatter had remained defiant and refused to step down, as demanded by European soccer’s governing body, UEFA.
The result of the one-vote-per-country election proved that Blatter retains the loyalty of the many smaller countries in Africa and Asia, a bloc that is enough to counter his critics in Europe and elsewhere.
"I like you. I like my job," Blatter said to the assembly after receiving a mix of cheers and jeers as he stepped to the stage for his victory speech. "I am not perfect, nobody is perfect, but we will do a good job together I am sure."
Then he exhorted the delegates: "Together we go! Let’s go FIFA! Let’s go FIFA!"
The election took place two days after seven soccer officials were arrested in dawn raids at a luxury Zurich hotel. The U.S. Justice Department indicted 14 people on charges of bribery, racketeering, money-laundering and other charges. In a separate investigation, Swiss authorities are looking into FIFA’s awarding of the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 tournament to Qatar. And Britain’s Serious Fraud Office said Friday it is assessing "material in its possession" relating to allegations of FIFA corruption.
Blatter himself was not implicated in the U.S. indictments, but prosecutors have said the investigations are far from over.
FIFA’s big-money sponsors have also called for change within FIFA. Visa warned it could pull out of its contract, which is worth at least $25 million a year through 2022.
Blatter, who has been in office for 17 years, portrayed himself as the man who can guide FIFA through the tumult and restore trust in an organization that has been left battered and reeling from years of corruption accusations.
The election went ahead after U.S. and Swiss federal investigations struck at the heart of Blatter’s circle. Two FIFA vice presidents and a recently elected executive committee member were still in custody Friday as the votes were counted.
"I thank you that you accepted me for the next four years," Blatter told the assembly. "I will be in command of this boat called FIFA and we will bring it back off shore and bring it back to the beach."
He cited God and Allah in his speech, saying they would help guide FIFA out of its crisis.
"I promise you, in the end of my term I will give this FIFA to my successor in a very, very strong position, a robust FIFA and a good FIFA," he said.
Blatter won despite direct calls for his resignation from UEFA president Michel Platini, who sat still during the congress and did not clap during the victory remarks.
"I am proud that UEFA has defended and supported a movement for change at FIFA, change which in my opinion is crucial if this organization is to regain its credibility," Platini said.
UEFA is scheduled to hold meetings next week in Berlin ahead of the Champions League final. Platini said before the vote that UEFA could pull out of FIFA and withdraw from the World Cup if Blatter was re-elected.
In what appeared to be a warning to UEFA, Blatter pledged Friday to change the representation of his influential executive committee, where Europe has eight of 25 voting members. Blatter also said he would retain a 32-team World Cup and resist expanding what is FIFA’s cash cow.
England Football Association chairman Greg Dyke, who voted for Prince Ali, said Europe’s opposition to Blatter would not wane.
"This isn’t over by any means," he said. "The events of this week are so traumatic for FIFA that I cannot see FIFA reforming itself under Blatter — he’s had (17) years to reform it and he hasn’t done it."
Sunil Gulati, president of the U.S. soccer federation and a member of FIFA’s executive committee, also voted against Blatter.
"While we are disappointed in the result of the election, we will continue to push for meaningful change within FIFA," he said. "Our goal is for governance of FIFA that is responsible, accountable, transparent and focused solely on the best interests of the game."
Blatter did have one big ally in Europe: Russia, the site of the next World Cup.
"Russia staunchly supported Blatter," Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko told The Associated Press, "so we are very satisfied with a result like this."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.