Blatter: Timing of US charges and European calls for resignation ‘no coincidence’ – CNN
Zurich, Switzerland (CNN)FIFA’s newly re-elected chief, Sepp Blatter, has wasted no time in pointing the finger at the United States and Europe over the corruption allegations that overshadowed the soccer body’s annual congress and threatened to derail his presidential bid.
In an interview with Swiss channel RTS, Blatter said the arrests of seven FIFA officials in Zurich, Switzerland, on U.S. warrants only two days before the election, followed by calls for his own resignation by the head of UEFA, European soccer’s governing body, “are not a coincidence.”
The arrests at a hotel Wednesday were followed by the indictment by U.S. prosecutors of nine FIFA officials as well as five sports media and marketing executives over alleged kickbacks of more than $150 million. They rocked the delegates gathered for FIFA’s 65th World Congress in Zurich.
And Blatter smells a rat.
“I am not certain, but it doesn’t smell good,” he said.
“There are unmistakeable signs: The Americans were candidates for the 2022 World Cup, and they lost. The English were candidates for the 2018 World Cup. They lost,” the 79-year-old soccer kingpin told RTS on Friday evening.
“If the Americans want to get involved in money or common law offenses relating to North and South American citizens, they should arrest them there, but not in Zurich when there is a congress.”
He also highlighted the alliances of the United States. “Let us not forget that they are the number one sponsor of the Hashemite Kingdom (of Jordan), therefore of my adversary (Prince Ali).”
Grilled Saturday by reporters in Zurich about concerns he may have about the continuing U.S. corruption probe, Blatter appeared to shrug them off.
“If somebody is making investigations they have all the right to do so, if they do it the correct manner and if they do it the usual way that it is done internationally,” the 79-year-old said.
“I have no concerns about that and I have especially no concerns about my person,” he added.
Blatter declined to answer questions about specific allegations against FIFA members and his own possible involvement in the investigation.
Blatter: ‘I will continue my work’
In a statement given before the questions started, Blatter said he would take responsibility as soccer’s world governing body weathers a “storm” of corruption allegations, but that others on FIFA’s ruling executive committee must also step up.
“I will continue my work and I will continue to fight for good things,” Blatter said. “It is my duty to live up to a lot of responsibilities to fix the situation and recover our reputation — but I am not alone. The executive committee has said they are with me.”
He also pointed out that 133 of FIFA’s 209 members had voted for him, but that he would lead the organization for all of them.
Revisiting the criticisms he made in his RTS interview, Blatter implied that there had been coordination between Swiss and U.S. authorities over the arrests at the Zurich hotel, at which, he said, three U.S. journalists were present.
He said FIFA would work with its disciplinary, ethics and audit committees to avoid future crises of the kind that shook the body this week. And he insisted the work was already underway with him at FIFA’s helm.
“Four years ago the situation was totally different. Four years ago we started this reform,” he said.
He called on UEFA to set an example to the other federations around the world by leading the way in instituting proper checks and controls on members.
Reelection no slam dunk
Blatter gained more votes Friday than Jordan’s Prince Ali bin al-Hussein, the 39-year-old FIFA vice-president who was Blatter’s sole rival for the presidency.
But it wasn’t a slam dunk, and he failed to get the required 140 votes in the first round of voting to prevail. Prince Ali conceded, however, before a second round of voting, since it was clear that Blatter would get the simple majority needed then to prevail.
The votes were cast by the 209 member associations of FIFA. Many of those — especially in Africa, Asia and the Americas — have been staunchly loyal to Blatter, given his commitment to divvying up the largesse of FIFA, which has $1.5 billion in the bank.
Opposition to his continued rule has come largely from European member associations and the United States.
On the same day that the U.S. arrests took place, a separate investigation was launched by Swiss authorities into how the 2018 and 2022 World Cup were awarded, to Russia and Qatar respectively.
Blatter has insisted the location of the next two World Cups won’t change on his watch.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has sent a telegram to Blatter congratulating him on his victory and saying Russia is ready to cooperate with FIFA in preparing for the 2018 World Cup, state news agency Tass cited Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying.
“Putin expressed confidence that the experience, professionalism and high authority will help Blatter to further contribute towards expanding the geography and popularity of football around the world,” said Peskov.
Blatter told RTS his reelection was a “big relief” given the double pressure he’d faced thanks to the actions of the United States and UEFA.
UEFA’s Michel Platini said after a meeting Thursday that he had asked Blatter to leave, only to be told it was “too late.” The former French national player also warned that, if Blatter was re-elected, European nations could take action of their own. Some have even advocated for Europe and its sporting allies to pull out of FIFA entirely.
Outlining the counts, Lynch said the most serious were the racketeering charges, which allege that the officials turned soccer “into a criminal enterprise.”
Blatter said that, as president of FIFA, he would never dare level such accusations against another organization without being certain what was going on there.
And he characterized Platini’s call for his resignation as “regrettable” and said it shouldn’t have happened. “I forgive everyone but I’ll not forget,” he said.
Standing down would have looked like an admission of guilt, when in fact he’s been fighting corruption for the past four years, he said.
Blatter is not one of those arrested or facing charges by U.S. authorities.
Speaking before Friday’s vote, Blatter argued that the soccer world, more than ever, “needs a strong (and) experienced leader” like himself to restore trust. He urged voters to give him a chance to do that, but didn’t promise any sweeping reforms.
“We don’t need a revolution,” he said. “But we still need, and always need, evolution.”