FIFA president Sepp Blatter says scandal brought shame and humiliation to soccer
Soccer world governing body reeling from arrests, indictments in U.S. racketeering case
Embattled FIFA president Sepp Blatter said on Thursday the corruption scandal surrounding the world soccer body has brought shame and humiliation to the sport.
In a defiant speech at the opening of a FIFA congress in Zurich at which he expects to be re-elected president for a fifth term, Blatter said there is no place for corruption of any kind in the game.
Seeking to distance himself from the scandal in which seven senior FIFA officials have been arrested in Switzerland on U.S. corruption charges, he said: "I cannot monitor everyone all the time. If people want to do wrong they will also try to hide it."
He added that FIFA had lost trust and must earn it back, starting tomorrow. More needs to be done to make sure everyone in football behaves responsibly and ethically, he said.
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Earlier in the day, Blatter rejected an emotional plea to resign from one of the world's soccer greats as the corruption scandal engulfing the game's governing body drew warnings from sponsors and political leaders.
As FIFA faced the worst crisis in its 111-year history, Michel Platini, the former French international who now heads UEFA, Europe's soccer confederation, said he had told Blatter to go but the 79-year-old had refused.
"I said, I'm asking you to leave, FIFA's image is terrible. He said that he couldn't leave all of a sudden," Platini told a news conference.
"I'm saying this with sadness and tears in my eyes, but there have been too many scandals, FIFA doesn't deserve to be treated that way," Platini said, speaking after an emergency FIFA meeting in Zurich.
Platini said 45 or 46 of UEFA's 53 eligible member associations would vote for Jordan's Prince Ali bin Al Hussein to succeed Blatter at an election on Friday.
But it appeared that Blatter still commanded enough of FIFA's 209 member associations and could expect to be anointed for a fifth term as president.
Despite FIFA assertions that it was business as usual following the arrest of seven senior officials on U.S. corruption charges, Blatter kept out of public view on Thursday until the opening of the congress
When Blatter failed to show up at a medical conference, FIFA's medical chief Michel D'Hooghe told the medical officers: "President Blatter apologizes for not being able to come today because of the turbulences you have heard about."
Those "turbulences" included a dawn raid by plainclothes police at one of Zurich's most luxurious hotels on Wednesday leaving seven of the most powerful figures in football in custody and facing extradition to the United States on corruption charges. They are all contesting extradition but lawyers said the process could be completed within months.
Swiss authorities also announced a criminal investigation into the awarding of the next two World Cups being hosted in Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022.
U.S. authorities said nine soccer officials and five sports media and promotions executives faced corruption charges involving more than $150 million US in bribes.
Blatter, who has denied allegations of involvement in corruption, said in a statement on Wednesday: "Let me be clear: such misconduct has no place in football and we will ensure that those who engage in it are put out of the game."
Former World Footballer of the Year Luis Figo, of Portugal, said the day the scandal erupted was "one of the worst days in the history of FIFA".
The FIFA congress got under way on Thursday evening with singers, dancers and a buffet. The serious business starts on Friday morning in Zurich's Hallenstadion, which is where the announcement of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup venues was made in 2010, decisions which lie at the very heart of most of FIFA's current malaise.
Splits in world game
With splits opening in the world game, the Asian and African confederations backed Blatter and said the election should go ahead as planned.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius disagreed, saying the vote should be delayed in light of the corruption investigation.
British Prime Minister David Cameron backed Prince Ali's candidacy and said there was a strong case for a change of leadership at FIFA.
Britain has long been a critic of FIFA and unsuccessfully bid for the 2018 World Cup which was awarded to Russia.
Les Murray of Australia, a former FIFA ethics committee member, called for Blatter to resign as have the FA chairmen of a number of leading European countries including England and Germany.
Blatter did, however, receive endorsement from Russian President Vladimir Putin, who accused the United States of meddling outside its jurisdiction by arresting FIFA officials.
"This is yet another blatant attempt to extend its jurisdiction to other states," Putin said, adding the arrests were a clear move to prevent Blatter's re-election.