England, sponsors add to Blatter's problems

May 31, 2011 - 1:59 PM
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 top global sponsors wary that the corruption scandal is damaging soccer.

Soccer's governing body is "shaking on its foundations," FIFA President Sepp Blatter said at the opening of a congress that is expected to elect him to another four-year term Wednesday.

With Blatter the only candidate after Qatar's Mohamed bin Hammam withdrew from the race Sunday amid bribery allegations, the English and Scottish Football Associations said the election lacked the credibility to counter the flood of allegations rocking FIFA.

That was unlikely to affect Blatter's coronation to a fourth term, although he did acknowledge the toll of the scandals.

"I thought we were in a world of fair play, respect and discipline and unfortunately I have to see it no longer is the case," Blatter said at the ceremonial opening of FIFA's congress. "There is danger."

IOC President Jacques Rogge said the Olympics faced similar challenges a dozen years ago leading to the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games, forcing drastic reform. Ten IOC members resigned or were expelled for accepting improper inducements.

"The IOC ultimately, however, emerged a stronger organization, and from within," Rogge said. "I am sure that FIFA also can emerge stronger."

The FIFA Congress began with a lavish ceremony for the delegates from around the globe, including a glitzy show headlined by scantily clad singer Grace Jones.

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.

But Blatter's election itself appeared in no danger. A threatened walkout of Asian members seemed unlikely to develop, as some supporters of Asian Football Confederation President bin Hammam said they wouldn't walk out in protest.

Maldives voter Ali Azim said "we have to be more civilized than that" and Australian Chief Executive Ben Buckley said that "my sense is that everyone will be there."

And despite being suspended along with bin Hammam, FIFA Vice President Jack Warner urged Caribbean soccer officials to continue backing Blatter.

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 intensified pressure on Blatter, who has downplayed the chaos in FIFA's ranks.

"Crisis? What is a crisis," Blatter said at a news conference 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."

Jerome Valcke, FIFA's secretary general, 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 in Zurich and Michael Casey in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.