Rivals for top job in football facing corruption probe

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With pre-match entertainment including jugglers, illusionists and an all-you-can-eat buffet, it's not surprising that Sepp Blatter remains undecided about attending tonight's Champions League final at Wembley.

Any juxtaposition with fast-fingered trickery and greed is unlikely to be helpful to the Fifa president and his embattled organisation in the coming days.

The extent to which football's global governing body is in the grip of internecine strife that threatens to tear the organisation apart was underlined yesterday when it placed Mr Blatter under investigation as part of a widening bribery scandal ahead of a ballot next Wednesday to decide whether he is re-elected to another term as the figurehead of the beautiful game.

The charge against the 75-year-old Swiss comes from Mohamed bin Hammam, once a close ally of Mr Blatter, but now challenging him for his position. Mr Bin Hammam is himself also under investigation for corruption by the body he seeks to lead.

As a result, the planet's biggest team sport faces the unedifying spectacle this weekend of having its two potential leaders led before a corruption inquiry. Four days later, one of them will be voted president of Fifa in a secret ballot.

This will take place against a background where eight of the 24 Fifa executive committee members who decided the 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosts in December also face corruption allegations. Sports minister Hugh Robertson called Wednesday's election a "farce", and said it should be cancelled.

"I don't see how you can have an election process when both the candidates are accused of corruption," he said.

Mr Bin Hammam, 62, the Qatari head of the Asia Football Confederation, was accused last week along with Fifa vice-president Jack Warner of offering cash bribes to up to 25 delegates at a conference in Trinidad, where Mr Warner is a government minister. Both men deny any wrongdoing.

In response to the dossier filed against him by American Fifa committee member Chuck Blazer, Mr Bin Hammam took the curious step of saying Mr Blatter knew about the $40,000 payments and "had no issue with them". Blatter denies the allegations.

Fifa has profited from money pouring into football. Its four-year accounts to 2010 show revenues up 59 per cent to more than $4bn (£2.4bn) and cash reserves nearly doubled to $1.2bn.