Belfast Telegraph

Home News World

Fifa chief Blatter weathers storm

Fifa president Sepp Blatter appears to have been snubbed by the Brazilian leader at the world football body's annual congress, just 48 hours before the 2014 World Cup begins.

Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff skipped the gala opening of the Fifa annual congress, just hours after Mr Blatter was subjected to a ferocious attack on his record by European football leaders.

Senior Uefa officials lined up to openly denounce Mr Blatter's running of the scandal-hit governing body after urging him during a closed-door meeting not to stand for re-election in 2015.

"People link Fifa to corruption and bribery and all kinds of old boys' networks," said Michael van Praag of the Netherlands, revealing he had told Mr Blatter "people tend not to take you very seriously any more. Fifa has an executive president and that means you are responsible".

Mr Blatter's behaviour on Monday finally caused European frustrations - long simmering at seeing Uefa president Michel Platini's potential path to the Fifa throne blocked - to boil over.

On a tour of continental meetings, Mr Blatter had fanned indignation among African and Asian delegates by suggesting recent European media reports alleging corruption linked to Qatar's 2022 World Cup bid was rooted in racism.

Mr Blatter also promised hundreds of thousands of dollars in bonus payments to each country from Fifa's four billion dollar-plus (£2.3 billion) World Cup revenues.

The Fifa president intends to cash in on Wednesday with widespread support from the congress floor for his expected presidential candidacy.

Europe's collective anger flared on Tuesday, perhaps fuelled by knowing that Mr Blatter was already backed by five of the six confederations before arriving at Uefa's five-star hotel in Sao Paulo.

First, they reminded Mr Blatter he promised them in March 2011 that his current four-year term would be his last.

"He said that he changed his mind and every human being is allowed to change his mind," Mr Van Praag said.

England's delegation, led by Football Association president Greg Dyke, revived long-standing friction with Mr Blatter.

Mr Dyke told reporters: "I said to him, 'I regard the comments you made about the allegations in the British media in which you described them as racist as totally unacceptable'."

Uefa board member David Gill said Mr Blatter should go in 2015.

"Personally, yes, I think we need to move on," said the former Manchester United chief executive, before comparing Fifa to the International Olympic Committee, which changed its president after the Salt Lake City bidding scandal.

Mr Platini did not meet with reporters, though his secretary general, Gianni Infantino, denounced Mr Blatter's description of a "storm" around world football.

"There is not a storm in football. There is a storm in Fifa," Mr Infantino said.

"It's something which is coming for years and years and years, and every time it's something else."

The volatile meeting recalled open conflict between Mr Blatter and Europe that flared around his original election in 1998, and his re-election in 2002 during a financial scandal after Fifa's then-World Cup marketing agency collapsed into bankruptcy.

Yet Mr Blatter remains secure in office partly because Uefa comprises only around a quarter of Fifa votes. European support has not been decisive in a presidential poll since the 1960s.

Globally, there is little desire to change a Fifa system and leadership that delivers booming revenues.

"Rest assured, the 11 members in this room are the first in line to vote for you," Oceania president David Chung told Mr Blatter.

Football politics - on which Mr Blatter clearly thrives - deflected attention away from the expected problems with Brazil's tournament hosting.

On Tuesday, a five-day subway workers' strike ended in Sao Paulo though further stoppages are threatened on Thursday, when Brazil plays Croatia in the city in the tournament's opening match, if sacked union leaders are not reinstated.

"What is uniting us today and tomorrow and in the next month is the love of this beautiful game," Mr Blatter said, without reference to the host nation's problems and an 11 billion dollars-plus (£6.54 billion) bill which has roused widespread public anger.

Linking himself to the absent Ms Rousseff, Mr Blatter insisted: "Together we have said this World Cup shall be a great event, not only for Brazil but for the world."

Despite a tough day, Mr Blatter found time to shimmy on stage with a glamorous Brazilian model as he took some shuffling steps with Fernanda Lima, Fifa's favourite big-event host, during Tuesday's gala opening.

Later, Brazil's president took to the nation's airwaves to deliver a pre-taped address to rally the nation behind the World Cup.

Ms Rousseff said that despite the anti-Cup protests the nation has lived through for a year, as well as paralysing strike action which caused havoc in many cities, all Brazilians should stand behind their team as it prepares for the opening match against Croatia this Thursday.

She told Brazil's players: "Below that green and yellow jersey you represent a powerful legacy of the Brazilian people. The national side represents our nationality."

The speech was a clear effort by Ms Rousseff to counter critics of the Cup and lift the spirits of a nation.


From Belfast Telegraph