FIFA: Sepp Blatter Downplays US indictment

Re-elected Fifa president Sepp Blatter has sought to downplay the US criminal proceedings launched against officials of world football’s governing body.

Seven officials and associates were arrested in Zurich earlier this week, as Fifa gathered for its congress.

Mr Blatter, 79, described the issue as “infractions” involving a marketing company operating in the Americas.

He is not named in the indictment, and denies having anything to do with an alleged $10m (£6.5m) bribe.

Speaking at a news conference in the Swiss city, he again questioned the timing of the US prosecutors, saying his organisation “could have been contacted at another time” rather than just before its congress assembled.

“I don’t see how Fifa should have been directly affected by this,” he said.

Mr Blatter beat Prince Ali Bin al-Hussein of Jordan in Friday’s election, and is starting his fifth four-year term as president.

Answering questions from reporters, he denied that he was the unnamed senior Fifa official who allegedly authorised the payment of a $10m bribe relating to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

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US Department of Justice indictment:

  • 14 individuals under investigation worldwide for allegedly accepting bribes and kickbacks estimated at more than $150m over 24-year period
  • Describes the corruption as “rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted”
  • Seven arrested in Zurich: Fifa vice-president Jeffrey Webb and his attache Costas Takkas, Costa Rica’s national football chief Eduardo Li; Eugenio Figueredo, president of the South American football governing body; Venezuelan Football Federation president Rafael Esquivel; Jose Maria Marin, a member of Fifa’s club committee; and Fifa development officer Julio Rocha
  • Others indicted include former Fifa vice-president Jack Warner
  • Several Fifa officials have already pleaded guilty – including Charles “Chuck” Blazer, a former member of the Fifa executive committee who has reportedly turned “supergrass”

Mr Blatter insisted that Fifa could move on from the crisis with him at the helm.

“It’s no longer a storm, it’s less strong at the moment,” he said, adding that 132 nations had expressed confidence in him in the presidential vote. “I will continue to struggle and fight for good things.”

In a sideswipe at European football’s governing body Uefa, he criticised the body for not setting up an ethics committee along the lines of Fifa’s own, to “set an example” to other, less wealthy and influential regional confederations.

Uefa’s president Michel Platini had urged Mr Blatter to step down ahead of Friday’s presidential vote, and Uefa strongly backed his rival for the post, Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan.

Prince Ali forced a second round of voting but then withdrew. Mr Blatter won 133 to Prince Ali’s 73 in the first round, just short of the 140 votes needed for an outright win.

Mr Blatter was widely supported in Africa and Asia, and his re-election was welcomed by the hosts of the next World Cup, Russia – with President Vladimir Putin sending Mr Blatter a telegram of congratulation on Saturday.

arlier, speaking to Swiss TV station RTS, Mr Blatter condemned what he described as a “hate” campaign against Fifa by European footballing nations.

And he said he was “shocked” by the comments of US prosecutors following the arrests of Fifa officials under an American anti-corruption warrant. One termed the case as “the World Cup of fraud” and said Fifa was being issued with a red card.

Mr Blatter said he suspected the arrests were an attempt to “interfere with the congress” at which he was re-elected. “I am not certain, but it doesn’t smell good,” he said.

He noted that the US had lost out in the bidding for the 2022 World Cup to Qatar while England, another major critic, had lost out to Russia for the right to hold the 2018 World Cup – and that the US was the “number-one sponsor” of the state of Jordan, the homeland of the defeated challenger for the Fifa presidency.

Uefa’s next move?

On Wednesday, US prosecutors indicted 14 Fifa officials and associates, including the seven arrested by Swiss police acting on behalf of the US authorities in a dawn raid at an upmarket hotel in Zurich. They are accused of bribery, racketeering and money-laundering involving tens of millions of dollars since 1991.

Ahead of Mr Blatter’s comments on Saturday, US tax official Richard Weber toldThe New York Times he was “fairly confident that we will have another round of indictments”.

Meanwhile, Swiss authorities have launched a separate criminal investigation into the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments to Russia and Qatar.

European football associations will meet at next week’s Champions League final in Berlin to discuss their next move.

Europe’s seat at Saturday’s meeting of Fifa’s powerful executive committee was empty, as newly appointed representative David Gill confirmed he would not take up his post following Mr Blatter’s re-election.

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Blatter in his own words: From Greek tragedy to tighter shorts

“I am the president now, the president of everybody,” said Sepp Blatter after winning a fifth term as head of Fifa. Yet that was far from the strangest thing he has said during his 17-year stint as president.

  • His description of football: “The unity of action and time, a classic tragedy of Greece in which we never know how it will end.”
  • When asked if he foresaw any cultural problems for gay people at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar (apparently this was a joke): “I’d say they should refrain from any sexual activities”
  • On John Terry’s removal as England team captain following an alleged affair in 2010: “This is a special approach in the Anglo-Saxon countries. If this had happened in, let’s say, Latin countries then I think he would have been applauded”
  • On women’s football, in 2004: “They could, for example, have tighter shorts. Female players are pretty, if you excuse me for saying so, and they already have some different rules to men – such as playing with a lighter ball. That decision was taken to create a more female aesthetic, so why not do it in fashion?”

BBC

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