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GRAHAME L. JONES / ON SOCCER

Sepp Blatter remains defiant on eve of FIFA election

Blatter, the president of soccer's world governing body for the last 13 years, is running unopposed but a number of associations are calling for the election to be postponed because of corruption allegations.

May 31, 2011|Grahame L. Jones | On Soccer
  • FIFA President Sepp Blatter insists the organization is not facing a crisis.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter insists the organization is not facing a crisis. (Fabrice Coffrini / AFP/Getty…)

On the eve of one of the most important elections in recent international soccer history, the incumbent remained defiant Tuesday while his onetime-ally-turned-enemy made an astonishing about-face.


FOR THE RECORD
An earlier online version of this article erred in referring to the American secretary general of CONCACAF as Dick Blazer. This version has corrected his name to Chuck Blazer.

Joseph "Sepp" Blatter, the president of FIFA for the last 13 years, is running unopposed on Wednesday for a fourth term as the head of soccer's world governing body.

But simply because he has no opponent does not mean he has no opposition.

On Tuesday, both the English and Scottish Football Assns. called for the election to be postponed, citing the ethical crisis engulfing FIFA in the wake of widespread allegations of corruption involving almost half of the organization's 24-man executive committee.

"Crisis, what is a crisis?" was Blatter's disdainful response Monday night at a news conference in which he repeatedly dodged difficult questions. "If somebody of you would describe to me what there is a crisis, then I would answer.

"Football is not in a crisis," the 75-year-old Swiss former public relations man continued. "We are not in a crisis. We are only in some difficulties."

One of those "difficulties" is Jack Warner, the Trinidadian who was suspended as a FIFA vice president on Sunday amid bribery claims and who on Monday lashed out at FIFA and Blatter.

On Tuesday, Warner, 68, astounded onlookers by calling for Blatter to be reelected.

In doing so, Warner apparently violated the terms of his suspension, which forbade him from having any involvement with soccer whatsoever.

In a letter to the 25 member nations of the Caribbean Football Union, Warner asked them to "desist for initiating any protest action at Wednesday's FIFA Congress" in Zurich, where FIFA's 208 member nations will vote.

It was the alleged bribery of CFU members by Qatar's Mohamed bin Hammam that caused Bin Hammam's own suspension Sunday and his withdrawal as Blatter's only opponent for FIFA president.

Warner called for CFU members to honor their commitment "to support the incumbent" and to ignore accusations against himself.

"The battles I have fought over the last week are my burdens to bear; my shoulders are broad and [my] skin is insulated to the verbal attacks I am subjected to daily," he said.

Warner's new position immediately fueled speculation that he had cut a deal with Blatter and that, in return for delivering the Caribbean vote and helping calm the storm surrounding Blatter, his name would eventually be cleared and he would regain his FIFA vice presidency.

Warner has been a FIFA executive committee member for almost 30 years and knows where the skeletons are buried — skeletons that Blatter would rather not see unearthed.

To further complicate matters, the acting president of CONCACAF, Lisle Austin, said Tuesday he had fired Chuck Blazer, the American secretary general of CONCACAF, whose allegations of bribery touched off the current scandal. According to the Associated Press, Austin accused Blazer of "a gross misconduct of duty and of judgment."

It wasn't immediately clear, however, whether Austin has the authority to remove Blazer, who is also a member of FIFA's executive committee.

Meanwhile, England and Scotland called for postponement of the vote Wednesday so that, in the words of David Bernstein, chairman of the English FA, "any alternative reforming candidate could have the opportunity to stand for president."

They also asked for a complete overhaul of the way FIFA operates, making it more transparent and accountable.

"The events of the last two days, in particular, have made any election unworkable," the Scottish FA's statement said. "The integrity and reputation of the game across the world is paramount."

On Tuesday, while opening the FIFA Congress, Blatter acknowledged that all was not well.

"I thought that we were living in a world of fair play, mutual respect and discipline, and I must say this is not the case any longer," he said. "It's no longer the case because our pyramid of FIFA is suddenly unstable on its basis and there's a danger."

grahame.jones@latimes.com

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