Blatter rejects crisis talk as FIFA scandal widens
In the face of FIFA's worst scandal in its 107-year history, a seething Sepp Blatter denied it is in crisis on Monday as he moved closer to a fourth presidential term as head of the world's most popular sport.
With his only challenger, Mohamed bin Hammam of Qatar, provisionally suspended along with FIFA vice president Jack Warner due to bribery allegations, Blatter said the two had done ''great damage'' to football as the scandal spread to the awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar.
During an impromptu news conference at an overcrowded FIFA headquarters ahead of Wednesday's election, an intense Blatter gave staccato answers to difficult questions and lectured journalists to behave with ''respect'' and ''elegance'' when they queried his 13-year rule.
''You are not in a bazaar here, you are in the FIFA house,'' Blatter scolded one heckling reporter.
Blatter ended another turbulent day for world football's governing body by vowing to restore order to FIFA, and dismissed evidence that his second in command had suggested Qatar ''bought'' the right to host the 2022 World Cup.
It came a day after bin Hammam and Warner were sidelined by an ethics committee over allegations that Caribbean football leaders were paid $40,000 each to back bin Hammam's now-abandoned presidential bid.
''Crisis? What is a crisis? Football is not in a crisis,'' Blatter said during a spirited and sometimes raucous news conference. ''We are not in a crisis, we are only in some difficulties and these difficulties will be solved - and they will be solved inside this family.''
Highlighting the unease within a sport that has long learned to live with scandal, leading sponsor Coca-Cola joined sporting goods giant Adidas in stating their unhappiness at the claims.
Coca-Cola said in a statement to The Associated Press that ''the current allegations being raised are distressing and bad for the sport,'' adding ''we have every expectation that FIFA will resolve this situation in an expedient and thorough manner.''
To make matters worse, Blatter failed to come out in defense of FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke, who admitted he had written an email to Warner saying bin Hammam might have been thinking that ''you can buy FIFA as they bought the WC.''
When asked for a reaction, Blatter said ''I don't answer this question,'' before adding, ''we will come back inside the FIFA on that.''
Qatar's World Cup organizers swiftly and ''categorically'' denied Valcke's claim. Qatar 2022 said it was ''urgently seeking clarification from FIFA about the statement from their general secretary. In the meantime, we are taking legal advice to consider our options.''
Valcke attempted to clarify his remarks on Monday, saying that by using the word ''bought'' he meant that Qatar was using the ''financial strength'' of an energy-rich nation to lobby for backing, but did not mean to claim any unethical behavior on its part.
''I have at no time made, or was intending to make, any reference to any purchase of votes,'' Valcke said in a statement about his email to Warner.
Bin Hammam said he would appeal his provisional suspension, saying ''the way these proceedings have been conducted is absolutely not compliant with any principles of justice'' and that they ''had been defined from the very beginning.''
The 62-year-old Qatari, who is suspended from his role as president of the Asian Football Confederation, published his submission to the ethics committee on his personal website.
In it, he acknowledges that he provided $360,000 for ''travel and accommodations'' of the 25 Caribbean Football Union members attending a May 10-11 extraordinary meeting in Warner's native Trinidad.
FIFA's gravest corruption crisis was sparked by a file of evidence submitted by Chuck Blazer, the American general secretary of CONCACAF and a longtime FIFA executive panel member.
Blazer said there was ''much more evidence'' to come detailing what happened when bin Hammam and Warner arranged the May 10-11 meeting.
FIFA's suspension of bin Hammam has met with widespread anger in the Middle East.
Yousuf al-Serkal, an Asian Football Confederation vice president and an ally of bin Hammam from neighboring United Arab Emirates, said he didn't believe the charges and saw them as a bid to remove him from the presidential race.
''Bin Hammam has been mistreated,'' al-Serkal said. ''Bin Hammam is the right person who should have been elected.''
''All the allegations were just from a report,'' he added. ''I feel sorry for the person I have known for long time as a decent person.''
Newspapers in Egypt were especially critical of the 75-year-old Blatter.
The Al-Dustour daily said bin Hammam had ''surrendered to the tyranny of Blatter.'' Al-Gomhuria called the Swiss president a ''sly fox who cannot be easily hunted'' and compared him to that country's longtime president, Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted from office earlier this year.
AP Sports Writers Graham Dunbar and Rob Harris and Michael Casey in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.