England, sponsors add to Blatter's problems

May 31, 2011 - 8:59 AM
Switzerland FIFA  Bribery Probe Blatter

FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter talks to the Media during a press conference in Zurich, Switzerland, Monday, May 30, 2011. FIFA President Sepp Blatter says

ZURICH (AP) — The turmoil surrounding FIFA escalated Tuesday with calls for the presidential election to be postponed and leading global sponsors expressing concern that the corruption scandal is damaging the image of the game.

With incumbent Sepp Blatter the only candidate for president, the English and Scottish Football Associations said Wednesday's election lacked the credibility FIFA needed to counter the flood of allegations rocking the sport's global body.

Blatter's only challenger, Mohamed bin Hammam, withdrew Sunday amid bribery allegations.

The English FA called for more time to allow "any alternative reforming candidate" to come forward to challenge Blatter, who has been president for 13 years and is seeking a final four-year term.

On the eve of the election, Blatter also had to deal with two more leading sponsors criticizing FIFA's inability to deal with pervasive corruption claims, and with his second-in-command under fire for saying Qatar had "bought" the 2022 World Cup.

England's intervention took European soccer body UEFA by surprise, with president Michel Platini saying the FA did not bring it up at a meeting Monday.

"They did not ask" for support to postpone the election, Platini said. UEFA is expected to largely back Blatter in Wednesday's election.

Any postponement of Wednesday's election would need the backing of three-quarters of the 208 federations attending the Congress, which was scheduled to be opened by Blatter late Tuesday.

The English FA had already said it was abstaining before the allegations emerged that led to suspensions for bin Hammam and fellow FIFA executive committee member Jack Warner.

The two were suspended by an ethics committee pending a full probe into allegations that Caribbean soccer leaders were paid $40,000 each to back bin Hammam's presidential bid.

"The events of the last two days, in particular, have made any election unworkable," Scottish FA chief executive Stewart Regan said in a statement. "The integrity and reputation of the game across the world is paramount and the Scottish FA urges FIFA to reconsider its intentions, and calls on other member associations to consider the long-term implications for the game's image."

Emirates, the Dubai-based airline, and Visa became the latest FIFA sponsors to express concern about the scandal, joining fellow World Cup sponsors Coca-Cola and Adidas.

"The current situation is clearly not good for the game and we ask that FIFA take all necessary steps to resolve the concerns that have been raised," Visa said in a statement.

Emirates is "disappointed with the issues that are currently surrounding the administration of this sport," Boutros Boutros, Emirates' senior vice president for corporate communications, said in a statement.

"We hope that these issues will be resolved as soon as possible and the outcome will be in the interest of the game and sport in general."

The sponsor dissatisfaction piled more pressure on Blatter, who has downplayed the chaos in FIFA's ranks.

"Crisis? What is a crisis," Blatter said at a news conference late Monday. "Football is not in a crisis."

"We are only in some difficulties and these difficulties will be solved — and they will be solved inside this family."

FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke admitted he wrote an email to Warner saying bin Hammam might have been thinking in his now-abandoned campaign that "you can buy FIFA as they bought the WC."

Blatter turned down an opportunity to defend Valcke. When asked for a reaction, the president said: "I don't answer this question," before adding, "we will come back inside the FIFA on that."

Qatar's World Cup organizers "categorically" denied any wrongdoing.

Valcke tried to clarify his remarks Monday, saying he used the word "bought" in reference to Qatar's "financial strength," which allows large sums to be spent on legitimate lobbying, and did not mean to suggest any bribery.

"I have at no time made, or was intending to make, any reference to any purchase of votes," Valcke said in a statement.

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AP Sports Writers Graham Dunbar and Rob Harris and Michael Casey in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.