In an extraordinary piece of football theatre which ended amid farcical scenes, Sepp Blatter last night denied that Fifa was in crisis despite another of day of escalating scandal around senior figures in football’s governing body.
During a fractious press conference in Zurich, Mr Blatter said: “Crisis? What is a crisis? Football is not in a crisis. We are not in a crisis, we are only in some difficulties.”
The conference, which followed a meeting of Fifa’s executive committee, broke up with an angry Mr Blatter exiting the room as a German journalist shouted questions after him.
The 75-year-old Swiss refused to comment on a leaked email from his general secretary, Jerome Valcke, that Qatar had “bought” the 2022 World Cup and claimed there was no evidence that the Qatar bid was “touched” by corruption claims and so Fifa would do “nothing”.
Mr Blatter, who is set to be handed a fourth term as Fifa president in Wednesday’s uncontested election, also ruled out any prospect of a re-vote on the 2022 result. He said: “There is no issue with the World Cup 2022.”
He became more irritated as the 30-minute conference progressed. At one point, when asked why he had allowed Fifa’s reputation to be “damaged on his watch”, he pointedly looked at his wristwatch. Later he snapped: “Please respect me. We are not in a bazaar, here we are in Fifa House.”
He insisted: “Fifa is strong enough that we can deal with our problems inside Fifa. We can solve our problems.”
But those problems are mounting rapidly, whatever Mr Blatter may claim. Throughout yesterday, claim and counter-claim swept around the lobbies of Zurich’s high-end hotels. It leaves Fifa in a state of turmoil ahead of the opening of their two-day annual congress tonight, at which the presidential election will take place.
Jack Warner had promised that a “tsunami” would hit football following the suspensions of him and Mohamed bin Hammam over bribery allegations and has since hit out at Mr Blatter and Mr Valcke. The most damaging is his publication of an email sent to him by Mr Valcke in which the Frenchman, a key ally of Mr Blatter, wrote that Qatar had “bought” the 2022 World Cup finals.
That prompted a furious reaction from Qatar, the small Emirate state that emerged as the shock hosts of the finals after a controversial vote in Zurich last December. They threatened legal action and denied any wrongdoing.
But Mr Valcke, in another of the day’s surreal moments, also denied acting out of turn. Yesterday morning he acknowledged that the email was genuine and said: “We will discuss it later.”
Later he issued a statement which said: “I’d like to clarify that I may use in an email — a ‘lighter’ way of expression by nature — a much less formal tone than in any form of correspondence. What I wanted to say is [Qatar] used their financial strength to lobby for support.
“They were a candidate with a very important budget and have used it to heavily promote their bid around the world in a very efficient manner. I have at no time made any reference to any purchase of votes or similar ethical behaviour.”
In the meantime, Mr bin Hammam announced he was to appeal against his suspension and wants Fifa’s appeals committee to reach a decision before today’s congress opens. He said he expected the investigation into his actions to be “influenced and manipulated”.
Mr bin Hammam said: “The way these proceedings have been conducted is absolutely not compliant with any principles of justice. I am punished before I am found guilty.
“I get the impression that the outcome of these proceedings has been defined from the very start. This is not acceptable as the Fifa ethics committee is supposed to be a fully independent body. Therefore, I also expect the further investigation to be influenced and manipulated.”
There are signs that the in-fighting is already beginning to damage Fifa’s commercial interests. Yesterday, two of the organisation’s largest sponsors, Coca-Cola and Adidas, expressed similar worries.
“The current allegations being raised are distressing and bad for the sport,” said a Coca-Cola spokesperson. “We have every expectation that Fifa will resolve this situation in an expedient and thorough manner.”
An Adidas spokesman added: “The negative tenor of the public debate around Fifa at the moment is neither good for football nor for Fifa and its partners.”