Defiant Blatter wins FIFA vote amid corruption storm
Sepp Blatter won a fifth term as FIFA president on Friday in a dramatic end to an angry campaign dominated by a corruption storm that engulfed the leadership of world football.
His challenger Prince Ali bin al Hussein withdrew from the race after preventing Blatter from getting the required majority in the first round of voting.
Blatter, who had defied calls to resign, raised his arms in triumph and promised the congress to be the “commander” who “guides this boat FIFA” out of the corruption turmoil it has sunk into.
“I’m not perfect. Nobody is perfect. But we will do a good job together,” he said.
The 79-year-old Blatter also indicated he would not stand again saying he would hand over a “strong” FIFA to “my successor” in four years.
Blatter fell seven votes short of the two thirds majority to win in the first round. He got 133 votes to Prince Ali’s 73.
The brother of Jordan’s king got further than any challenger to Blatter, highlighting divisions within the scandal-tainted body that Blatter will struggle to overcome.
The prince thanked those “brave enough” to vote for him before announcing he was pulling out.
The end of the campaign was overshadowed by the arrest in Zurich on Wednesday of seven FIFA officials, including two vice presidents, accused by US authorities of taking tens of millions of dollars in bribes.
Swiss police are also investigating the award of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar which have also been surrounded by corruption allegations.
In a final plea for votes, Blatter vowed to lead FIFA out of the corruption controversy if reelected.
– ‘Morally bankrupt’ –
“I promise a strong FIFA, I want to climb back up the hill, arrange FIFA’s situation. I want a beautiful, robust FIFA, out of the storm,” he said.
Prince Ali promised “transparency” and to “restore respect”.
“We have heard questions raised about whether our family is morally bankrupt,” the prince said in his final campaign address.
Most of Europe’s 53 votes went to Prince Ali, along with the United States and Australia. But Blatter’s rockbed support in Africa and Asia saw him through to a new term.
Blatter questioned the timing of the Zurich arrests so close to the election, declaring: “People say it was a coincidence. But I have a small question mark.”
Blatter said the arrests had unleashed a “storm”. But he repeated his case that he cannot “monitor” football affairs alone and calling for greater action by regional confederations and national associations.
Blatter scored one victory when the Palestinian Football Association withdrew a motion to expel Israel from FIFA because of restrictions on Palestinian teams.
But he his victory was met with new hostility from the football leaders who have opposed him in the past six months.
On Thursday, he rejected an appeal by UEFA’s president Michel Platini to resign because of the scandals that the European football leader said has critically tarnished FIFA’s image.
Platini was among those to express disappointment at the result and praise Prince Ali’s campaign.
“I am proud that UEFA has defended and supported a movement for change at FIFA. Change which in my opinion is crucial if this organisation is to regain its credibility,” he said.
Platini said UEFA could discuss measures against FIFA on June 6.
“This vote has only served to endorse the election of a man who can’t remain in charge of world football,” said Luis Figo, the former Portugese star who was a candidate in the race until last week.
“There’s no way someone can lead FIFA ignoring the most elementary rules of transparency, legality and democracy,” Figo added.
“We will continue to push for meaningful change within FIFA,” commented US Soccer president Sunil Gulati who said reform should be Blatter’s “number one priority”.
“Our goal is for governance of FIFA that is responsible, accountable, transparent and focused solely on the best interests of the game.”
Blatter has remained defiant as governments joined sponsors in crying foul over FIFA’s corruption scandal.
British Prime Minister David Cameron has backed calls for Blatter to resign.
French President Francois Hollande said sports groups running major events must be “irreproachable”.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said that if world football cannot clear up “poisonous” corruption, government agencies would be forced to step in.
– Sponsors’ anger –
Commercial fallout grew with South Korea’s Hyundai Motor, a major sponsor of FIFA, saying it was “extremely concerned” at the new scandals.
Credit card giant Visa has threatened to “reassess” its sponsorship if FIFA does not clean up its act. Coca-Cola, Adidas, McDonald’s and Budweiser have also spoken out. The United Nations says it is reviewing its cooperation accords with FIFA.
The seven arrested football officials — including FIFA vice presidents Jeffrey Webb and Eugenio Figueredo — remained in custody on Friday. Six have indicated they will fight extradition to the United States, Swiss authorities said.