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No change at top Embattled Blatter wins fifth FIFA term

A delighted Sepp Blatter is congratulated after his victory

(Keystone)

FIFA’s beleaguered head, Sepp Blatter, has won his fifth presidential term, despite the eruption this week of corruption allegations during his time as chief of world football’s governing body.

Defiant Blatter, who resisted calls to resign this week as FIFAexternal link president or to postpone the election, was elected after his only challenger, Prince Ali bin Al Hussein of Jordan, withdrew after the first round. This saw Blatter receive 133 votes, falling short of the two thirds majority needed (out of 209) at FIFA’s 65th Congress in Zurich on Friday. Prince Ali got 73 votes.

In a victory speech, Blatter declared: "Let's go FIFA, let's go FIFA," to a standing ovation.

He also thanked all those who voted from him and his rival, Prince Ali. "I am not perfect, nobody is perfect, but we will do a good job together I am sure," he said.

"At the end of my term I will give up FIFA in a strong position," he added.

Anger within Europe's powerful regional football body UEFAexternal link and other members over the damage corruption allegations are doing to FIFA were not sufficient to topple the 79-year-old Swiss.

Reactions

While Asian, African and Latin American states had been expected to rally around Blatter, Europe had been keen for him to step aside.

"Change in my opinion is crucial if this organisation is to regain its credibility," said Michel Platini, who heads UEFA, after the result.

American footballing officials also expressed their disappointment but said they would continue to push for change.

Peter Gilliéron, president of the Swiss Football Associationexternal link, congratulated Blatter on his re-election.

“It is important and only fair that discussions are sought, and that decisions are taken and solutions found that will take FIFA and football out of the negative headlines and bring them forward,” he said.

He said Blatter had done a lot for football, but that he would not be revealing for whom he had voted.

Congratulations for Blatter came from Russia. 

Crisis

FIFA has been plunged into crisis after a number of its top officials were arrested at a five-star Zurich hotel two days ago at the behest of the US Justice Departmentexternal link on suspicion of receiving bribes worth millions of dollars. The dawn arrests in Zurich, where the organisation is based, came hours before Swiss prosecutors announced a separate criminal investigation into the 2018 and 2022 football World Cup bids won by Russia and Qatar, respectively.

Addressing the Congress before the vote, Blatter said events on Wednesday had “unleashed a storm” but he appealed to delegates’ “unity and team spirit” to move forward together and to stamp out corruption.

“You [national associations] are the ambassadors of our football. You have the power to change the face of FIFA. You have the power in your hearts,” he said.

“Let’s get down to work. Let us not just talk about problems. Let us go and solve them. Let us show the world we are able to run our institution and we can do that together,” he declared.

Blatter said the most important points for FIFA to tackle were transparency, FIFA’s standing, the fight against corruption, match fixing and racism.

“Rampant” corruption

Triumphant Blatter is therefore extending his 17-year reign as FIFA president for another four years despite serving at the helm of a culture that American prosecutors described this week as having “rampant, systemic, deep-rooted” corruption at its core.

On Wednesday US Attorney General Loretta Lynch and heads of the FBI and Internal Revenue Service revealed a far-reaching US investigation into racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering charges of at least $151 million (CHF143 million) in bribes. Nine football officials and five sports media and promotions executives have been charged.

Blatter has sought to distance himself from the scandal, the biggest crisis FIFA has faced in its 111-year history.

"We cannot watch everyone all the time. We have 1.6 billion people directly or indirectly touched by our game," Blatter said.

“Good future”

Before the vote, Kuwaiti Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, one of the most powerful men in world sport, said Blatter had a “good future”. FIFA’s chief medical officer also reportedly said the 79-year-old was "as fit as a fiddle".

While it is difficult to predict events, the Swiss faces a stormy time, however.

Several countries announced before the secret ballot that they were switching allegiance away from Blatter because of the scandal.

"This is the beginning, not the end. I think there is a lot more of this to play out," English Football Association Chairman Greg Dyke told Sky News shortly after Blatter’s victory.

Dyke was coy about whether or not European teams might boycott future World Cups, saying England would not go it alone, but the idea of a wider boycott could be discussed.

Money worries?

Adding to the pressure on FIFA and Blatter, there are growing concerns from major sponsors, such as McDonalds, Adidas and Coca Cola, many of whom have solidly backed the organisation despite nearly 20 years of bribery and corruption allegations.

Coca Cola said after Blatter's re-election that: "FIFA must now seize the opportunity to begin winning back the trust it has lost". It added that it wanted to see the soccer federation take "concrete actions".

Some observers say FIFA could learn some lessons from the International Olympic Committee (IOC). A corruption scandal in 1998 involving allegations of bribes in return for votes to get the 2002 winter Olympics to Salt Lake City triggered an avalanche of change for the Olympic movement, pushed by sponsors.

Ahead of the vote, Jens Sejer Andersen, director of the independent sports watchdog, Play the Game,external link was cautious.

“There is a risk that Blatter may still do some window-dressing for sponsors to show that FIFA is on the right track,” he declared.

He added that Blatter’s attempt to try to distance himself from the current scandal showed that he had lost all sense of reality.

“But he knows he won’t be able to control all the investigations or political processes,” he said.

Swiss pressure?

Mark Pieth, a Swiss professor and former head of FIFA's independent governance committee who recommended a number of reforms for the organisation, said football’s world governing body should be regulated by Switzerland, where it has its headquarters.

"If we see circumstances like those we are currently experiencing with FIFA, then we don't have much choice other than the government becoming involved," Pieth said in a pre-vote interview with Swiss public radio, SRFexternal link.

As non-profit associations, the approximately 60 sporting bodies based in Switzerland, including FIFA and the International Olympic Committee (IOC), pay a far lower tax bill than private-sector corporations.

Addressing FIFA’s Congress on Thursday, Swiss Sports Minister Ueli Maurer said FIFA had a “credibility problem” but remained quiet on the host’s future plans for sporting bodies.

In the past Swiss lawmakers have been hesitant to tighten oversight on organisations like FIFA, which is an sizeable local employer and exerts a powerful lobby, but the recent corruption allegations may change some opinions.

By coincidence, the Swiss parliament is scheduled to hold a debate next week on proposed laws that would make it harder for sporting bodies to engage in corrupt activity.

Politicians will decide on whether to beef up the nation’s corruption laws to make it an automatic criminal offence for anyone to give or accept bribes, regardless of the legal status of the organisation they represent.

Last December, parliament passed new anti-money laundering laws that classifies FIFA executives, and those of other large sporting bodies, as politically exposed persons. This will allow the Swiss authorities to scrutinise the private bank accounts of such officials. 

FIFA investigations

A US Justice Department investigation announced on May 27 has accused 14 international football officials or sports marketing executives of bribery, racketeering, fraud and money-laundering over two decades in connection with marketing rights worth hundreds of millions of dollars awarded for tournaments in North and South America.

The seven football officials, including Jeffrey Webb, president of the North and Central American and Caribbean regional body known as CONCACAF, were arrested in a police raid on a luxury Zurich hotel early Wednesday. They are fighting extradition to the United States.

Defendants named in the indictment face up to 20 years in prison and their questioning could reveal further evidence that leads back to Blatter's Zurich-based organisation. Webb was a member of FIFA's audit committee more than a decade ago.

The Swiss Federal Prosecutor's Office has launched its own investigation against an unspecified number of “persons unknown”, surrounding allegations of corruption during the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments, which went to Russia and Qatar respectively. 

In this case, the investigation was prompted by FIFA itself, which issued a complaint on November 18 last year. The Federal Prosecutor's Office is therefore treating FIFA as the “injured party”, while coordinating with the US investigation to secure suspects and evidence. 

end of infobox

Sepp Blatter

Joseph S Blatter was born on March 10, 1936 in Visp, Canton Valais.

A football player in the amateur Swiss leagues, Blatter started his professional career in public relations with the Valais tourist board.

He was elected as General Secretary of the Swiss Ice Hockey League in 1964 before moving to FIFA in 1975 as Director of Technical Development Programmes.

Six years later, Blatter was appointed as General Secretary of FIFA and then Chief Executive in 1990.

He was first voted in as FIFA President in 1998 and won further elections in 2002, 2007, 2011 and 2015. 

end of infobox

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