English FA, government urge Blatter to go
England’s Football Association and government urged FIFA president Sepp Blatter to resign on Thursday, as British investigative journalists were praised for helping to expose a major corruption scandal.
“Sepp Blatter has to go as FIFA president,” Greg Dyke, chairman of the FA, football’s governing body in England, told the Press Association.
“There is no way of rebuilding trust in FIFA while Sepp Blatter is still there… He either has to go through a resignation, or he has to be out-voted or we have to find a third way.”
British sports minister John Whittingdale supported the FA’s position in an urgent debate in parliament, telling lawmakers: “A change in the leadership of FIFA is very badly needed”.
Whittingdale urged sponsors to review their ties with FIFA and said Britain’s Serious Fraud Office was examining the allegations made by US and Swiss authorities in a scandal that has engulfed the sport.
“(The SFO) will have heard the calls today. I understand, certainly, that they are looking at it,” he said.
Asked about a possible re-run of England’s failed bid to host the 2018 World Cup, which was won by Russia, he said: “I think it is too soon to say that there should be a re-run of the competition but we should wait and see what the outcome of the investigation is.”
– Press exposed wrongdoing –
Prime Minister David Cameron’s spokesman meanwhile said Britain would be supporting Blatter’s only rival for the presidency of FIFA.
“We’re squarely behind the FA… (which) supports the candidacy of Prince Ali (bin al Hussein),” he told reporters.
World football’s governing body has been plunged into crisis as it prepares to vote for a new president while accusations are levelled of “rampant, systemic and deep-rooted” corruption by US authorities.
Seven officials were arrested in a dawn raid on a luxury Zurich hotel on Wednesday and accused of taking more than $150 million in bribes, with a total of 14 officials and marketing executives accused of racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies.
Blatter has been FIFA president since 1998 and has weathered a series of scandals including allegations of corruption in the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar, while remaining popular among FIFA member associations worldwide.
Britain’s Sunday Times and the BBC’s Panorama programme have played a leading role in investigative stories about alleged corruption at FIFA in recent years.
Whittingdale on Thursday paid tribute to the Sunday Times “without whose investigations many of these allegations may never have come to light”.
“Freedom of the press has played a vital part in exposing the wrongdoing of FIFA,” he said.
Investigative reporter Andrew Jennings, who published corruption allegations against Blatter in 2002, said in a tweet: “I gave the FBI the crucial documents that triggered yesterday’s arrests.
“There will be more to come. Blatter is a target,” he said.
– ‘Tarnished’ brand –
Coverage of the scandal in Britain has focused on Blatter, and Thursday’s newspaper front pages were covered with pictures of the man who has long loomed large over the world’s most popular sport.
The Daily Mail asked “How can Blatter survive?”, the Guardian’s front page read “The stench of corruption”.
In an editorial, The Times accused Blatter of creating a “personal fiefdom” in FIFA that had brought football “into disrepute”.
“The game is over, Mr Blatter,” it read. “It is time you retreated to the dugout.”
Britain’s Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said a politician in the same position as Blatter “would be struggling to cling on” to their job.
“It looks very much like it’s going to be the commercial sponsors who use their power to insist that this happens,” he told Sky News.
Credit card giant Visa said on Thursday it would “reassess” its sponsorship of FIFA unless the organisation cleaned up its act, while Coca-Cola, Adidas, McDonald’s and Budweiser also spoke out about the corruption scandal.
“I very much welcome the statement that has already been made by Visa and I hope that the other sponsors will follow suit,” Whittingdale said.
“They should attach themselves to a brand that is successful, not one that is tarnished and corrupt.”