Re-elected FIFA chief Sepp Blatter has again insisted he is the man to lead the world football body through its current crisis. Mr Blatter comfortably won his fifth term as president on Friday, two days after seven FIFA officials were arrested on a US corruption indictment in Zurich. The arrests were connected to a bribery scandal being investigated by American, Swiss and other law enforcement agencies.
In a stormy Q-and-A session with journalists in the Swiss city, Mr Blatter said he has the backing of the organisation’s executive committee going forward. “I am still the man to go into these problems and to solve these problems,” he said. He also denied any personal involvement in the alleged acts of bribery after being asked by Sky News if he authorised a $10m bribe to a disgraced official.
“Definitely that’s not me. I have no $10m,” Mr Blatter said. The allegation is contained in the US Justice Department’s indictment which states, “a high-ranking FIFA official caused payments… totalling 10 million – to be wired from a FIFA account in Switzerland to a Bank of America correspondent account in New York… controlled by Jack Warner”. When asked if he was worried about being arrested in the corruption investigation, he responded curtly: “Arrested for what? Next question.”
Before the address, Mr Blatter hit out at Europe football body UEFA. Its head, Michel Platini, asked him to stand down over the corruption scandal. “It is a hate that comes not just from a person at UEFA, it comes from the UEFA organisation that cannot understand that in 1998 I became president,” Mr Blatter told Swiss broadcaster RTS. Asked whether he would forgive Mr Platini for the resignation calls, Mr Blatter said: “I forgive everyone but I do not forget.”
Mr Platini has raised the possibility – albeit slim – of Europe boycotting the World Cup. Asked about that, Mr Blatter said: “We cannot live without UEFA and UEFA cannot live without us.” Mr Blatter also implied the US timed the announcement of the corruption investigation to try to scupper his re-election bid. “No-one is going to tell me that it was a simple coincidence this American attack two days before the elections of FIFA,” he said.
He added: “There is something that smells.” He also noted that the US was the “number one sponsor” of Jordan, where his challenger for the FIFA presidency Prince Ali bin al Hussein comes from. He said the bid to unseat him was down to the “English media and the American movement” because of their failed World Cup bids. Meanwhile, England’s new FIFA representative, David Gill, confirmed he will not take up his post on the elite executive board because he refuses to serve under Mr Blatter.
“If you are elected you have to come, whoever is president of FIFA,” he said. The US Department of Justice has so far charged a total of 14 people over alleged bribes totalling more than $150m (£98m) in the scandal. A top American investigator earlier said he was “fairly confident” there would be more arrests in the scandal. Richard Weber, the head of the Internal Revenue Service’s criminal investigations unit, told the New York Times: “We strongly believe there are other people and entities involved in criminal acts.”
Mr Weber also dismissed the idea the US government was on a mission to topple the leadership of FIFA. “I don’t think there was ever a decision or a declaration that we would go after soccer. We were going after corruption,” he said. An IRS spokesman confirmed Mr Weber made the remarks and said the case is “open and ongoing”.