European soccer leaders told Sepp Blatter not to run for a fifth term as president of FIFA, saying he’s damaged the governing body’s reputation during his 16 years in charge.
Blatter, 78, has been meeting with representatives from FIFA’s 209 member associations to gather support for next year’s vote, after reversing a decision to stand aside. His campaign comes amid pressure from sponsors over corruption allegations linked to the awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, a desert nation smaller than the U.S. state of Connecticut.
Blatter took office in 1998 and the ruling body has had to deal with other crises, including the expulsion of Mohamed Bin Hammam, a former ally who stood against Swiss resident Blatter in 2011. The Qatari quit the race days before an investigation into claims he tried to bribe voters in the Caribbean with envelopes stuffed with $40,000, leaving Blatter unopposed.
“In the last eight or nine years, FIFA has built an ugly reputation, not only in the press but you only have to look at Twitter -- #FIFA #Blatter #FIFA Mafia,” Dutch Football Association Chairman Michael van Praag told Blatter after the FIFA president told delegates from the 54 members of European governing body UEFA that the global organization was in the middle of a storm.
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“There are reasons -– bribery, money and corruption are so often linked,” Van Praag said. “FIFA has a bad reputation. FIFA has an executive person and if you like it or not, you have a responsibility.”
Van Praag’s remarks came a day after members of African soccer’s confederation gave Blatter a standing ovation when he told them of his re-election plans. In that meeting, he described as racist reports in the British media alleging wrongdoing in Qatar’s bid. Greg Dyke, chairman of England’s Football Association, said Blatter’s remark was “offensive.”
“It doesn’t matter which media does it, it was raised in the media and it must be addressed by the governing body of world football,” Dyke said. “To attempt to portray it as a racial or discriminatory attack is totally unacceptable.”
UEFA President Michel Platini will decide in September whether to oppose Blatter. The Frenchman has regional support, including from Dyke.
David Gill, chief executive officer of English Premier League team Manchester United (MANU:US) and a member of UEFA’s executive board, said structural changes that FIFA made in the past two years to improve corporate governance don’t do enough.
It’s “the people within that structure that determine whether that structure works, whether it’s effective, whether it’s efficient and delivers for all of us a FIFA that’s fit for purpose,” Gill told reporters.
Qatar denies it acted improperly during its bid. Gill said Blatter should focus on risks to the $5 billion event rather than criticize media.
“This is their biggest product,” he said. “This is the one that generates all the income for FIFA every four years. It is the most important competition in world football, so if I was the chief executive of it then I should be very concerned.”
Officials from Germany and Norway, along with former UEFA President Lennart Johansson, who Blatter beat to win his first term as head of FIFA, also spoke out after the meeting at the Renaissance Hotel in Sao Paulo.
“People link FIFA to corruption and bribery and all kinds of old boys’ networks,” Van Praag told reporters after addressing Blatter.
About a third of the FIFA executive board members who voted for Qatar’s 2022 bid have left the governing body amid allegations of corruption.
Platini didn’t speak to reporters yesterday, though UEFA General Secretary Gianni Infantino responded to Blatter’s claims that soccer was facing a “storm.”
“There is not a storm in football,” Infantino said. “There is a storm in FIFA and this storm is not new. It’s something which is coming for years and years and years, and every time it’s something else.”
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